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SHARON Winner, development agency blame each other for grant loss



Published: Sat, September 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The entrepreneur said he hopes the project can continue.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

SHARON, Pa. -- Businessman James E. Winner Jr. didn't know the state rescinded a $7 million grant offer to help him redevelop the vacant Westinghouse Electric Corp. plant on Sharpsville Avenue.

Winner said Friday he read in a newspaper the money wouldn't be forthcoming.

"I hope the project will continue despite the setback," he said.

Winner has blamed the Mercer County Industrial Development Authority and its chairman, Charles Bestwick, for difficulty in securing release of the grant funds, first promised to the project in early 2000.

The MCIDA served as the grant applicant on behalf of Winner's company, Winner Development LLC.

"Chuck, it appears that you won," he said, declining to comment further on the project.

Bestwick has denied responsibility for problems in getting the state to release the money.

The state provided MCIDA and Winner Development with a list of 21 items that had to be met before the grant would be turned over, and Winner failed to provide the required information, he said.

The state wanted details on the private financing and engineering designs for the project, which was to turn the vacant manufacturing facility and office space into an industrial park that would provide more than 1,000 jobs.

"It's a total loss for the community," Bestwick said of the state's decision.

State's letter

The state sent out a letter Sept. 12 announcing that the grant offer had been rescinded and the $7 million had been returned to the capital budget fund pool.

The state, through Mike Lukens, spokesman for the governor's office, seemed to back Bestwick's position.

Lukens said the initial project was set at $77 million but the scope of the development was later reduced to about $18 million.

The state never got the project details it needed to clear the grant nor was the $18 million version the same project for which the state had promised $7 million, Lukens said.

He said Winner could apply again for money from the capital budget but it would have to be an entirely new application based on the reduced size of the project. It would have to compete with all other applications vying for those funds.




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