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SHARON Winner is trying to meet deadline to fix up old plant



Published: Sat, January 5, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The state has given Winner until March 7 to complete terms of a grant agreement providing $7 million for the project.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

SHARON, Pa. -- Businessman James E. Winner Jr. said he may scrap his plans for a $77 million redevelopment of the former Westinghouse Electric Corp. plant on Sharpsville Avenue.

"[The project's] not worth the aggravation to me," Winner said Friday in response to questions from The Vindicator regarding the project's status.

The Pennsylvania Office of the Budget isn't backing down from the 90-day deadline it gave Winner Development LLC to meet a list of 21 special conditions to secure a $7 million development grant for the site.

What happened: The state had informed the Mercer County Industrial Development Authority, which is serving as the applicant for the grant, in December that Winner Development had only 90 more days to meet the terms of the agreement.

The clock began ticking Dec. 7 and March 7 is the cutoff date.

One-third of that time frame has already passed and MCIDA officials said at their meeting Friday that they have heard nothing from Winner Development.

Among other things, the 21 special conditions include such items as documentation of private financing, project costs, project organization and management plans.

James E. Winner Jr., a principal in Winner Development, said the problem isn't with the state but with MCIDA, which he said keeps coming up with requests for more information.

The MCIDA said it is the state, not MCIDA, that insists upon Winner's meeting all of the grant agreement requirements.

Background: Winner bought the former Westinghouse Electric Corp. plant in December 1999 for $500,000 with plans to develop it into a multitenant industrial park employing 1,000 people.

The development price tag could reach $77 million, he has said.

Pennsylvania approved the $7 million grant for the project in May 2000 but MCIDA and Winner Development have never been able to provide all of the documentation the state needs before it will release the money.

Winner attended the authority's Dec. 7 meeting and said he believed the necessary information to secure the state money could be provided within the 90-day period.

What's likely: Not everything may be in place by that time, but sufficient progress will be made to persuade the state to extend the deadline, he said.

He said Friday that his company is still working on gathering that information and a meeting between the state and the parties involved is expected to be scheduled for next week to discuss the project status.

However, Winner also said his frustration may lead him to scrap the whole effort.

"My inclination is to abort the project," he said.

Winner said he would still own the property and will still be responsible for cleaning up industrial hazardous materials in the old plant.

That cleanup work will be finished in the spring with the entire interior of the facility cleaned and painted, he said, adding that, if nothing else, he could then sell the property.




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