Reports that the AcelorMittal plant is nearing a sale and could reopen within two to three months of the sale have been circulating, just as Georgetown city and county officials update members of the community about the plans for the nearly 200-acre property.
Those tales sharply divided the attendees of three public meetings into those who wanted the reopening of the steel mill to be the focus of officials and those who wanted to see the city’s elected leaders and staff focus on a mixed use development for the site.
Both city officials and the leadership of Steelworkers Local 7898 have been in contact with “an international company” about reopening the mill, that in its heyday employed more than 1,500 people but had fallen on hard times and was shuttered for good in 2015.
“We have a contract,” said James Sanderson, union president. He said that the union has been in touch with its membership, and 110 people have indicated their desire to return to the mill. Sanderson said that when the mill reopens, he expects there to be about 350 people initially in the work force.
A spokesman for ArcelorMittall would not confirm a sale, but did say in an email that “ArcelorMittal continues to actively market its former wire rod facility in Georgetown, S.C. to potential buyers and is in ongoing discussions with several interested parties.
“We are committed to exhausting all options that will maintain the operation, preserve jobs and maximize the value of the property for our shareholders. We recognize that other stakeholders are exploring alternate options for the property, such as mixed use development, which we understand and have supported through conversations as well as opening our doors for site visits,” the statement continued.
In the meantime, Paul Gardner, Georgetown city administrator, said the city has hired a real estate attorney and is going forward with plans to rezone the property to mixed use. No ordinance has yet been proposed, but Gardner said he expected to have a proposal to present to the City Council within 30 to 45 days.
Gardner said that should the Georgetown City Council rezone the mill site and the plant be sold, the facility could operate under a nonconforming use provision for a set time but ultimately would fall under new zoning. Should the mill close and remain shuttered for a year, the new zoning would prohibit it from reopening.
A mixed-use zoning would be in keeping with a plan proposed by experts from the Urban Land Institute, who visited Georgetown in September and proposed a three-pronged redevelopment that included residential, commercial and education centers.
Jerry Moore was one of the people employed at the mill, which paid its workers an average $70,000 to $90,000 a year, plus benefits, including fully paid health insurance and a strong pension, Sanderson said. Moore was laid off on Feb. 1 and is looking forward to returning to work.
“What gets me,” he said, pointing to city and county officials sitting on the stage at Howard Recreation Center, “is that the people up there aren’t interested in reopening the mill.”
“The city has a responsibility to make creative decisions that will last for decades,” Gardner said at the Howard meeting. “Land use is critical. Do we want to let a Fortune 500 company, maybe in the U.S., maybe overseas, make that decision?”
Sanderson said that part of the attraction of the mill site to prospective buyers comes from Washington, D.C., and President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to promote the use of American steel.
“It’s what the plant does – produce American steel,” Sanderson said.
State Sen. Ronnie Sabb, D-62 and Rep. Carl Anderson, D-103, also supported the reopening of the factory.
“I grew up in Georgetown; I saw that plant being built and I saw what it brought to the community,” Anderson said. “It brought good-paying jobs to Georgetown. We can have that again.”
In a letter read at the Sept. 7 meeting at Duncan United Methodist Church, Sabb reiterated his support for the mill reopening.
“…My position is that if a viable company is interested in reopening the steel mill, the opportunity should be extended to that company without but rather with support of our community and our local government. It’s clear there are efforts on the national level to allow American steel mill companies more latitude to succeed and compete nationally. Our community is poised to be a major benefactor of those efforts, should they become successful,” Sapp wrote.
City officials also said any multi-use plan would include the city’s West End, which lags behind the community in property values, education and income.
But that did not impress Donald Gilliard, a political consultant and Georgetown native.
“They’ve made these promises before. We want to ensure that this time we have a seat at the table,” he said.
Thus far, no plans are in place for any development on the steel mill site, although Mayor Jack Scoville, Gardner and Gloria Bromell Tinubu, the city of Georgetown’s new director of community development, said that any mixed-use development would be a public/private partnership.
Scoville said that as of now, no financial considerations were in place. When the public asked if the city had the money for development, Scoville said “no.”
Gardner said that the cost of purchasing the mill is in “the tens of millions.”
“We don’t have the money, but we can get together with someone with a proven track record to establish a public/private partnership and come up with an agreement that would be binding on both parties,” Gardner said.
He added that any mixed use development likely would include some light industrial, such as seafood processing plants and boat building facilities, as well as recreational areas,, residential and educational facilities. He suggested that there also might be a governmental complex that would include a new city hall as well as county offices.
Gardner said that the city had not identified a developer for the site, but promised people at the March 7 meeting that any company selected would have a “proven record of success.” But he did not speculate on the timing for any construction work to start.
He did assure attendees at the March 7 meeting that one of the first steps would be an environmental assessment of the site.
He also indicated at the March 7 meeting that the city is pursuing the Urban Land Institute’s suggeston for the property.
“We’ve been asked to pursue the ULI option, and that’s what we’ve done,” Gardner said. “The development of the site has the potential to transform our community.”