SHARON Dispute hasn't halted plan for industrial park

A dispute with the development authority lingers.
SHARON, Pa. -- A businessman isn't giving up in what has been a frustrating effort to create between 500 and 1,000 good jobs by converting the vacant Westinghouse Electric Corp. plant on Sharpsville Avenue into an industrial park.
"My goal hasn't changed," James E. Winner Jr. said Tuesday.
Winner is now asking the city to help secure a $7 million state grant to help finance the project, which has been reduced from an original estimate of $77 million to about $18 million.
Winner, chairman of Winner International, which developed and sells The Club vehicle anti-theft device and a variety of other products, bought the plant in 1999.
Problems with agency
He was using the Mercer County Industrial Development Authority to go after a state grant but he said the agency seemed more intent on putting up roadblocks than helping.
There were problems from the beginning, Winner said, noting the MCIDA argued over the issue of prevailing wages for the project at a time when the state said prevailing wage laws didn't apply, resulting in months of unnecessary delay.
The MCIDA has said repeatedly that it isn't the problem. The state set down a list of 21 criteria Winner had to meet and didn't, the agency said.
Winner said his company's chief financial officer put together an application for a $2.75 million state Industrial Site Reuse Program loan that was funded in six weeks.
The MCIDA needed and got the same information for a $1.25 million Infrastructure Development Program loan, but never got it funded, he said.
Winner dropped the $7 million grant application in March, citing a business decision to greatly reduce the scope of the project, and severed ties with MCIDA.
He recently asked city council to apply for the $7 million, which would come as a grant to the city and be loaned to Winner Development LLC.
Liability issue
Sharon is concerned about liability for the $7 million should the state decide the money was spent incorrectly and wants the grant back.
Winner said Tuesday he has arranged a $7 million performance bond to cover the project.
Meanwhile, the MCIDA says Winner has paid only $13,000 toward more than $44,000 it spent on administrative fees on the project and it's suing Winner Development for the difference.
Winner disputes the amount, saying he has paid the $13,000 he owed the agency.
Winner later sent an additional check for $11,151, but it was returned because the agency said it was presented as a final payment.
Winner said that upon receipt of some additional documentation from the agency, his company re-issued the $11,151 check Monday and sent a second one for $5,750 to cover legal fees and other expenses incurred by MCIDA, bringing total payment to nearly $30,000, with about $11,000 still in dispute.
Winner said most of that is undocumented, suggesting resolving the dispute through arbitration.
The agency didn't approve of his suggestion that the two sides pick three attorneys to settle the case, suggesting arbitration should be more formal. It then filed suit in Mercer County Common Pleas Court.

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