But not before the EPA steps in.
NORFOLK — In a quiet residential neighborhood near Booker T. Washington High School, a hulking industrial site looms. Gray, paint-peeled hangars have been overtaken by vines and underbrush, and rusty side panels have fallen off in some places.
The 18-acre eyesore once belonged to Globe Iron Construction Co., a steel manufacturing company that was a key player in rebuilding Norfolk’s downtown and the Hampton Road Bridge-Tunnel. But the structure has sat vacant since the company went out of business in 2012.
Now the city of Norfolk wants to redevelop the land, potentially with new homes or a new elementary school. But there’s a big problem: the site may be unsafe for people to reside.
That’s why the city is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study and potentially redevelop the property using federal “brownfield” assistance funds. A brownfield is a site whose reuse may be complicated by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.
The federal assistance will help the city redevelop the site “in an environmentally conscious manner,” Norfolk spokeswoman Kelly Straub said.
Councilwoman Mamie Johnson, who represents the area, said she wants to replace Globe Iron with much-needed new housing. But she said that can’t happen until any pollutants are cleaned up.
“Nothing will be done unless we are absolutely sure that it is a safe site,” Johnson said.
The city of Norfolk is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up a polluted manufacturing plant, known as Globe Iron, in the hopes that the city can replace the site with new housing, or possibly a new elementary school. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)
The old steel plant is in Bruce’s Park, a residential neighborhood near the intersection of Princess Anne Road and Tidewater Drive.
The city council adopted a neighborhood plan for the area in 2021 that calls for the demolition of Globe Iron and replacing it with housing or a potential relocation of Jacox Elementary School, just around the corner.
The plan indicated that industrial uses would be incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood.
“Moving away from the idea of industrial uses here ... is clearly appropriate, and supports the community-building efforts to strengthen the neighborhood,” the plan said.
If the site is approved for residential development, Johnson said she wants the city to pursue “missing middle” housing, such as duplexes, triplexes or townhomes that are more affordable than single-family homes. She said the site could also accommodate some commercial uses or a new school in addition to new houses.
The redevelopment of the property is more than a decade in the making.
Globe Iron was a 90-year, family-run institution that supplied structural steel to several prominent Hampton Roads buildings and infrastructure projects. The company fell on hard times during the Great Recession and filed for bankruptcy.
When it shut its doors in 2012, the plant was auctioned off. Businessman Bill DeSteph, now a Virginia state senator, purchased it for $1.8 million, about half of its assessed value at the time.
DeSteph said he spent years trying to get a project approved on the site, including a failed bid for a recycling center, but nothing materialized. Ultimately, he said he and city officials had “philosophical differences” about how it should be redeveloped, and no agreement was ever reached.
“I tried to do residential. The city wouldn’t approve it. I tried to do industrial. I couldn’t get the city to approve it. Everything I tried, I couldn’t get them to approve. So I said, ‘Well, why don’t you guys just buy it from me then?’” DeSteph said. “And that’s pretty much what happened.”
In 2020, the city of Norfolk purchased Globe Iron from DeSteph in 2020 for $5.5 million — nearly three times what he paid for it.
DeSteph also claims there are no environmental issues at the site. He said he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for environmental assessments that turned up nothing and disposed of dozens of 55-gallon barrels with hazardous waste.
Daniel Berti, firstname.lastname@example.org