Foundry Daily News

USA - Columbus Castings' new owner ready to start work on its rebirth

FRED SQUILLANTE | DISPATCHThe exterior of Columbus Castings at 2211 Parsons Ave.

The rebirth of the Columbus Castings property will begin soon, but it will take years.

The first step will be to empty the plant of parts and equipment and tear down at least some of the buildings, said Jonathan Reich, co-CEO of Reich Brothers Inc., in an interview Thursday.

His company was the winning bidder in an auction last week to buy the assets of the closed South Side foundry.

"I would just caution that it's a long process," he said.

Within months, the company is likely to hold an auction of small equipment on the property, he said. That will be followed by the removal of large equipment, some of which will be sold. Then workers will demolish at least some of the buildings.

After that will come environmental cleanup of the site, whose soil has been polluted from more than a century of work with hazardous chemicals and metals. The environmental work will need to be done according to a plan to be worked out with state and federal regulators.

"No shovel will hit the dirt until that's done," Reich said.

He doesn't have a timetable, but says it would be useful to think of this as a years-long process.

While it stings to have lost 800 jobs at the foundry, he thinks that the city will be better off in the long run to have "lighter manufacturing, much more sensitive to the community on environmental issues," he said.

Reich Brothers, with main offices in White Plains, N.Y., and Los Angeles, made its first public statement about its plans on Wednesday, saying in a news release that the property would be part of an "environmentally clean mixed-use redevelopment."

This morning, Reich clarified that "mixed use" likely means a mix of light industrial and maybe retail, but no housing.

South Side leaders have mixed feelings about the company's plans. They lament the loss of jobs, but they also have known for years that Columbus Castings had serious environmental problems and recurring financial concerns.

"It's a good example of how times are changing," said Curtis Davis, vice chairman of the South Side Area Commission, an elected panel that makes recommendations to the Columbus City Council on issues affecting the neighborhood. "Is it a new chapter? I think so,"

He lives about a mile from the plant. He said he has spoken with neighbors who say the plant's shutdown may be a "blessing in disguise" because of the opportunity to attract new jobs.

Columbus Castings was operating until mass layoffs occurred in May, followed by a bankruptcy filing by the company's owner. Reich Brothers narrowly outbid a private-equity firm that had plans to reopen the plant.

The foundry was the only manufacturer in the country for certain parts for rail-car undercarriages. The rail industry, however, has experienced a sharp decline because of falling coal and oil shipments.

One question throughout the bankruptcy process was what rail-car makers would do to get the parts in the absence of this key supplier. Reich said he may sell some of the assets to another parts manufacturer, but added that there is no current plan to do so.

Reich has been doing redevelopment projects for about 20 years and says his company is prepared to do this work the right way. Some of that work will involve hiring of workers who will help with teardown and other tasks, but he did not have an estimate of how many.

"This is what we do day in and day out," he said. "What we do all day long is buy intact manufacturing facilities that have closed."


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