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ARI purchase of Keystone not done deal

A big Brookhaven industry focused on railroad work has not bought the old Keystone property — they’ve just bought the right to buy in the future.

In the story, “ARI buys old Keystone property,” published in the Aug. 7 edition of The Daily Leader, it was incorrectly stated American Railcar Industries purchased the 19-acre Keystone-Seneca industrial property just below the bridge in the Brookhaven Industrial Park for $30,000. Instead, ARI paid the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors for a two-year purchase option — similar to a down payment — that ensures the county will hold the property for those two years and keep it available if, or when, ARI decides to buy it.

“At this particular time we have no plans to expand, but we want to secure the land option for future considerations,” ARI Director of New Business Development John Ward said two weeks ago. “Normally, future growth opportunities at a service facility would be dependent upon market conditions and demand for services.”

If ARI decides to exercise its two-year option, supervisors and the company will negotiate the price of the 19.23 acres and large but run-down manufacturing facility.

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.

Talk about an expansion of the company’s facility has gone around Brookhaven for at least a year or more. Barry Cotten, plant manager for the Brookhaven location, told The Daily Leader in 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 the nearby Keystone 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 a potential purchaser from liability if environmental hazards are discovered. Brownfield agreements are common in commercial property negotiations.