On Friday October 23rd, the first day of early voting in Maryland, Democratic officials joined Sparrows Point Terminal CEO Michael Padone for a press conference in the former cold mill at Sparrows Point to talk about economic development. The 126-year old steelworks has been shuttered since December 2012 and is being demolished. Five weeks ago, locally owned Redwood Capital Investments announced that they had bought the 3100 acre site and had formed a new entity, Sparrows Point Terminal, to develop the property.
“For generations, the Point was known as a hub of job creation for the region. Our goal is to bring that back,” Padone said. The company plans to make the site a hub for energy, manufacturing and distribution and port-related businesses. No leases have been signed yet.
Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, running a tight race for governor against Republican Larry Hogan, noted that the Point is a unique asset – 3100 acres with access to energy, rail lines, major expressways and a deep water port. He noted that Redwood Capital had just signed a $48 million environmental clean-up agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address air and water pollution from more than 100-years of steelmaking on the site.
Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, running for a seventh term representing Maryland’s Second District, which includes Sparrows Point, spoke of the decades of decline on the Point when employment dropped from 33,000 to about 2100 under Sparrows Point’s final owner, RG Steel.”We tried to save steel and we just couldn’t,” Ruppersberger said. “It got worse when out of state investors came in.” He compared his excitement when locally-owned Redwood Capital bought the property to “when the Ravens won the Super Bowl.”
Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz, also running for re-election, spoke of his sadness at seeing the once-might works nearly demolished but was up-beat about the prospects for the future. “The port expansion alone could lead to thousands of jobs in the short term,” he said.
Dundalk Chamber of Commerce president Jim Russell spoke of the impact of job loss on the community. “We’ve seen a lot families struggle,” he said. “Not just people who worked for the Point but others on the supply chain. We know that bringing jobs and new business to Sparrows Point will help the whole community.”
The speakers were backed by 50 hard-hatted employees of MCM Management Corp, which is demolishing the site. Ten of the men are former steelworkers, according to Ron Hooey, 58, who worked at Sparrows Point for 28 years as a heavy equipment operator. I asked him how he felt about helping to demolish his former workplace. “I’m just glad I’m working,” he said. “A lot of the guys still don’t have jobs.”