ARI buys old Keystone property

Published 10:14 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A piece of Brookhaven’s industrial history may soon crumble to the needs of the future after being purchased by its next-door neighbor.

American Railcar Industries has bought the old Keystone-Seneca property in the Brookhaven Industrial Park, striking a deal with the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors to take the 19.23 acres and its decrepit manufacturing building for $30,000. John Ward, ARI’s director of new business development, announced the transaction at Monday’s board meeting, but did not reveal the company’s plans for its new backyard.

“At this particular time we have no plans to expand, but we want to secure the land option for future considerations,” he said. “Normally, future growth opportunities at a service facility would be dependent upon market conditions and demand for services.”

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ARI, a railroad restoration company that repairs and rehabilitates railroad cars, has operated in Brookhaven on the site of the former Homelite Jacobsen plant on Industrial Park Road since 2014. The company, which has more than a dozen locations around the country and a mothership facility in Bude, spent around $7 million to develop the Brookhaven location and was rewarded with a 10-year tax exemption and a federal grant in exchange for providing 25 jobs.

Ward may say ARI has no immediate plans, but talk about an expansion of the company’s facility has gone around Brookhaven for at least a year. Barry Cotten, plant manager for the Brookhaven location, told The Daily Leader last September the company is looking to expand its capacity from 120 to 200 cars and hire another 30 employees.

“The plant in Bude does a lot of painting, blasting, lining and they have a bigger repair shop. We want to add that to the plant here,” he said.

If ARI plans to add that capacity on its new property, the Keystone building itself will have to go.

The old facility, which produced wire cloth, was constructed in 1956 and closed down in 2006. Lincoln County took ownership of the site away from Keystone a decade ago when the company skipped a year’s worth of lease payments — Keystone sent the full amount by check shortly afterward, but supervisors decided to keep the building in the hopes of offering it up for redevelopment.

But no other industries were interested. The Keystone building, with its low ceilings and numerous roof-supporting columns, is unsuitable for modern manufacturing needs. The county worked toward a $650,000 grant for renovations, but the state dropped the project due to the building’s limitations.

But while the building is unusable, the property appears perfect for ARI. It is situated on the main Canadian National Railway, which ARI already uses to bring railcars in and out of its facility, and the two properties could easily be connected via a new spur line under the big Industrial Park Road bridge.

“I don’t think it’s very hard to connect the dots,” said Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Garrick Combs. “ARI has demonstrated they are not apprehensive about redeveloping property into a condition that would serve them best.”

Combs said ARI and Lincoln County are halfway through a Brownfield agreement, an environmental checkup that assesses a property for contamination and clears the purchasing party of responsibility for cleanup.