Efforts to bring new businesses to the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna moved further down the tracks Tuesday with the opening of a relocated two-mile rail line that will make about 300 acres in the sprawling industrial site accessible for development.
Local officials said the $4.7 million project, which has been in the works for more than a decade, is a key part of efforts to make the Bethlehem Steel site more attractive to businesses and manufacturers, and will help economic development officials tout the transportation advantages offered by the Lackawanna property.
“This project represents far more than two miles of new railroad tracks,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, during a morning news conference near a stretch of the relocated rail line. “Just having this rail line relocated is opening up a whole door of opportunity.”
The project, funded primarily with state money and a $300,000 grant from National Grid, moved the rail lines to the middle and back portions of the property, clearing the land along Route 5 for future development of the brownfield site as a business park. A 40-acre parcel already has been sold to Welded Tube, a Canadian steel company that is building a $50 million steel products plant with as many as 120 workers.
With upwards of 1,000 acres available across the entire Bethlehem site, local officials believe that the property, once it is cleaned up and the infrastructure work is completed, eventually could be attractive to a business that needs large amounts of land that could be developed quickly.
“This is a great adaptive reuse of an industrial location,” said Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy.
With easy access to the region’s highways and with the nearby Port of Buffalo providing a link to shipping routes, Poloncarz said, the relocated rail line will link the site to four major railroads, allowing companies on the Bethlehem property to have their pick of transportation options.
“You can get your products from this site by port, by boat or by land,” the county executive said.
The project was funded by $4.4 million that was obtained through the state over the past decade, along with a $300,000 grant from National Grid that helped pay for the relocation of utility lines on the property.
Local officials said the redevelopment of the Bethlehem Steel site will take advantage of existing utility lines and roads, making development there less costly than it would be if it took place at an undeveloped location. The site is one of the few in Erie County available and zoned for heavy industry.
“This is about smart growth,” said Dennis Elsenbeck, National Grid’s regional executive for Western New York.
“It promotes development at or near infrastructure,” rather than on undeveloped sites that require more costly utility and road work to become accessible to business.
“Factories belong on brownfields, where there is infrastructure in place,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo.
Poloncarz said additional road work is needed at the site, with the costs being borne by local governments and the site’s owners, including its primary owner, Tecumseh Redevelopment.
“Our goal is to ensure that we have an open site,” Poloncarz said.