Girard to acquire property

By jeanne starmack


The city is acquiring the old Ohio Leather Works property after what Mayor James Melfi calls “a 19-year-odyssey” of negotiations and litigation.

The 27-acre property on the west side of U.S. Route 422 by the Golf Dome could be used for walking trails and other recreation, Melfi said. It is next to 80 acres of land the city also wants, which is owned by the Genesee & Wyoming Railroad. Melfi said the city is negotiating with the railroad to obtain as much of that land as possible. The city could acquire it through eminent domain.

“We want to piece all of that together,” he said, which will give the city a lot of property to develop.

The city could have the title to the Leather Works property in less than a month. A federal judge must sign a consent agreement first. The agreement is between the property owner, the former owner and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Part of the agreement is that the city gets the property at no cost, Melfi told city council at its meeting Monday.

The city has been in legal battles with the owner, Leather Works Partnership, since the mid-1990s, Melfi explained.

The OEPA got involved in negotiations with Leather Works Partnership, now called Navy Friends, and the previous owner, Berk Realty, to settle on penalties over contamination on the property.

Navy Friends and Berk Realty are both based in Maryland, according to Vindicator files.

Melfi said the site is a sentimental one and important to the city’s history, “as well as great potential for the community,” he said.

The Leather Works tannery opened in 1900 and employed hundreds of immigrants who fashioned fine leather from hides brought in from the Chicago stockyards, he said.

It closed in 1969 and has been in a state of disrepair ever since, he said.

Berk Realty owned it from 1974 to 1994, selling it to Leather Works Partnership in 1995, according to Vindicator files.

The new owner had intentions of turning the site into a restaurant and an apartment complex, but a fire ruled to be arson gutted the building that year, according to Vindicator files.

The city razed the burned building and tried to recoup $75,000 in costs from Leather Works Partnership. The city and Leather Works, now Navy Friends, began negotiations with the help of the OEPA.

The OEPA has found a series of hazardous-waste violations at the site.

Melfi said the OEPA already has done a Phase I assessment of the property, which is a visual inspection. It found dangerous chemicals in open storage, Melfi said.

He said Phase II would be more involved, including testing soil samples. If the property requires a cleanup, the city would apply for brownfields grants, he said.

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