To the Citizens of the City of Georgetown.
There has been a lot of controversy about the actions of the City Council in rezoning the steel mill site. I think it would be helpful for the people to know the facts that led us to where we are now.
City and County representatives met with the governmental affairs director of ArcelorMittal in June, 2016, to participate in a conference call with the company’s real estate people. The company assured us that it would never reopen the Georgetown Mill and would never sell it or its equipment to a competitor. Therefore we assumed that the chances of the mill ever reopening were extremely slight. When considered in light of the fact the mill had closed three times in the past decade, this was hardly an unreasonable assumption.
Working with the Bunnelle Foundation, an ad hoc committee began to meet over the summer to discuss what to do about the mill site. We determined that the best course would be to bring in a disinterested outside group to evaluate the situation and recommend a way forward. This led to the hiring of the Urban Land Institute to conduct the study. Most of the funds to pay the ULI were raised from private sources such as the Bunnelle Foundation. We asked ArcelorMittal to participate but they declined. However, they encouraged us to proceed with the study, as it would help them in marketing the property. The ULI panel came to Georgetown in September, conducted a week long study that included interviews with hundreds of local people representing all stake holders. The ULI panel was made up of professionals who deal with land development all over the world. Their recommendation was that the mill be repurposed in some manner that would promote light, high tech industrial jobs, retail, commercial, educational, cultural, and residential uses. They estimated that the economic impact of repurposing the mill site would result in a greater positive economic impact than the reopening of the mill. The ULI study was met with an overwhelming positive response.
The City Planning Commission voted unanimously in November to amend the future land use plan of the City to implement the suggestions of the ULI study. The City began work on a rezoning amendment that would make the site a Redevelopment District to encourage the repurposing of the site.
Public hearings were held starting in March on the ULI study to receive imput from the community on the plan. At the first hearing held March 2, Union President James Sanderson announced that a company had signed an agreement with an undisclosed potential buyer that provided if that buyer ultimately bought the mill to reopen it, the buyer would honor the union contract with ArcelorMittal. After that meeting Mr. Sanderson told me and Mr. Sel Hemingway that the interest in the mill was being driven by President Trump’s promise to raise tariffs on imported steel. Other sources within the steel industry had confirmed this. We discussed this issue with Senator Lindsey Graham and Congressman Tom Rice who both expressed major doubts that the tariffs would ever pass.
The day after the first meeting a group of city and county officials met with Congressman Tom Rice and representatives of ArcelorMittal at the Georgetown County Airport. We were told by Mr. Keith Nagle, the real estate department head of ArcelorMittal, that the agreement signed by the undisclosed potential buyer and the union was basically a formality and did not mean a sale was imminent or even likely. He encouraged us to move forward with our plans, and also to refer any potential buyers we were aware of to contact him. Mr. Nagle subsequently thanked me for the publicity the matter had received as a result of the public meetings because that spurred new interest from prospective buyers.
It should be noted that the only substantive discussions we had had up to this point with the company was the June teleconference from last summer. The City, County, numerous interested purchasers, real estate agents, and media people had repeatedly reached out to the company but had gotten little if any response. Despite being kept abreast of the City’s actions to amend the land use plan and rezone the property, ArcelorMittal never voiced any objections. The first notice we had from the company that they were concerned with the rezoning was the day of the hearing before the planning commission, last Tuesday, in a press release.
Based on the information we had, I do not think it is fair to attack the members of city council for proceeding with the rezoning.
The first confirmation we received that a buyer had actually committed to move forward with the purchase of the mill was last Saturday when ArcelorMittal issued a joint press release with Liberty Steel announcing a tentative agreement for Liberty to buy the mill to reopen it. Last Tuesday before the public hearing with the Planning Commission, Mr. Gordon Spelech, who is representing Liberty came to see me to explain his company’s plans. We met for more than an hour. The meeting was more informative than any we had had with ArcelorMittal since they closed the mill. Mr. Spelech shared his vision for the mill and assured me Liberty would be a good corporate citizen. He actually thanked the City Council for continuing to push ahead with the rezoning because that was the issue that finally got the two companies to reach and agreement. We now have an actual company to deal with and not simply rumors that the mill may reopen.
I invited Mr. Spelech to attend a meeting with City Council to review Liberty’s plans and review the pending rezoning amendment. Council met with him and two senior representatives of the company on May 10. The meeting was informative and helpful. We agreed to work with the company in the coming months to ensure a successful reopening of the mill. I am confident that we can work together to ensure as many jobs as possible in the reopened mill go to City of Georgetown residents, that the mill will be operated as cleanly as possible, and that all interested parties end up as satisfied as possible with the outcome.