By Jackie Runion
The Marietta Times
JACKIE RUNION The Marietta Times
General Services Administration representative Joseph O’bradovich, left, officially transfers the deed to the Washington County Memorial U.S. Army Reserve Center to Southeastern Ohio Port Authority Chairman Tom Webster alongside Sen. Rob Portman, Congressman Bill Johnson and SEOPA secretary-treasurer David Haas on Friday.
Two properties, one old and one new, are ready to create jobs, grow local industry and honor veterans after the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority announced their openings Friday afternoon.
The opening of the 35,000 square foot Ingenuity Center on Ohio 7 in Reno and the purchase of the abandoned Washington County Memorial U.S. Army Forces Reserve Center just down the road are the culmination of two major SEOPA projects.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, along with representatives from SEOPA and other elected officials, were in Marietta Friday to cut ribbons and open up facilities for public viewing.
U.S. Army Forces Reserve Center
Portman and Johnson collectively wrote a letter to the General Services Administration, a U.S. agency that manages federal facilities, asking to speed along the sales process of the old abandoned reserve center on Ohio 7 to SEOPA so it could become a contributing tax-paying facility again.
"It sat empty for 15 years, so it's ready to be remodeled," said Jim Black, interim director for SEOPA. "They'll start work right away, and we hope sometime in the future to have it ready for businesses to move into."
Work is expected to start right away after Mark Mondo Building and Excavating purchased the 17-acre property for $550,000 in a private-public partnership with SEOPA.
The site at 27930 State Route 7 was made the U.S. Army Memorial Reserve Center in 1978, but was abandoned in the early 2000s.
At a ceremonial event Friday, GSA representative Joseph O'bradovich officially handed the deed to the site to SEOPA, which will soon begin the process of making a business park and veterans memorial to honor the site's original purpose.
"We're proud to return this to a tax-paying, job-creating status to honor veterans and create jobs," said project coordinator Greg Smith. "We're thankful this is being put back into local control."
Portman recently passed legislation to allow more federal properties to be sold to private investors.
"There's 77,000 of these properties in the country, and Americans pay about $1.7 billion to maintain them," he said. "This is what government ought to be doing; passing legislation so we can avoid all the red tape and bureaucracy."
Johnson, who worked closely with Portman to aid in the project, said the transfer is a great stepping stone into improving the area's economy.
"This is a great day for Washington County and Southeast Ohio," he said. "People are going back to work, and they're going to continue to go back to work."
Next to the center, Mondo will also help construct the memorial, along with renovation work done inside the facility.
"It'll be seen from all around and from the river, so it will be a great destination to honor our veterans," Smith said.
Nearby on Commerce Drive is the newly finished Ingenuity Center, the other project by SEOPA that opened for public viewing Friday.
The $2.2 million, 35,000 square foot facility finished its final inspections this week, and SEOPA is still looking for industries and businesses to fill the space.
"We currently have two groups actively looking at the space, and we're just waiting to see what happens," Black said. "We want to expand employment in the county, and we built this building purposefully as a core so those businesses can expand and develop however they choose."
Black said representatives from oil and gas companies see the building as too small, but SEOPA will continue to seek out firms that will bring jobs to the community.
"Right now we would prefer to have one tenant, but we're remaining flexible," Black said.
Friday, an open house event was held at the center where businesses like the Memorial Health System and the Washington County Career Center were there to represent the economic opportunities and partnerships available with the center.
"We want to bring in jobs and we want people to know what's here," said Dennis Blatt, superintendent of the career center, who serves on the SEOPA board of directors.
The center is being built with federal and state grant funding, as well as a $862,500 bridge loan from Peoples Bank. Once completed, SEOPA predicts that expanding or new businesses moving in could create up to 25 new jobs.