For nearly three decades, the former Gulf Oil refinery site along Front Street in East Toledo has been a fallow field in the city's industrial landscape -- 181 acres of emptiness where thousands had once been employed.
Now, three years after paying Chevron Corp. $3.4 million for it, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority's vision for reviving the property as a central part of multi-modal transportation in the region has begun taking shape. A rail loop is under construction through the 71 acres between Front and the Maumee River.
While dignitaries hammered gold-painted spikes into freshly built track Monday to officially dedicate Ironville Dock, construction workers with heavy machinery continued grading roadbed and laying track for the 100-railcar loop. The track will be used to transfer bulk commodities, such as grain and stone, between trains and ships or trucks.
"We have the ability to serve the majority of people in this country from this point," said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who sponsored $3.1 million in federal funding for the terminal project.
"This is local but also in the national interest," Miss Kaptur said, halting briefly when a train on tracks nearby blared its horn. "Multimodal is really our future here in this region."
The federal grant has yet to be released, but the site's rail construction has been funded by part of a $5 million Jobs Ready Sites grant the Ohio Department of Development awarded to Lucas County in 2008.
Miller Brothers Construction of Archbold has a $1.72 million contract for the rail loop, which will be connected to a Norfolk Southern track that borders the property's southern edge.
Other pending site improvements include road construction, removal, new dock bulkheads, and dredging and obstruction removal in the river along the shoreline.
The terminal is to feature both 19 acres of ground "laydown" storage and silos for storing materials that need protection from weather. A conveyor system will be built for loading and unloading ships, including direct transfer into railcars.
The terminal improvements will be paid for from the federal funds and a $7.4 million Logistics and Distribution Stimulus grant from the state. Midwest Terminals of Toledo, which operates the port authority's existing general-cargo dock downriver, has committed $5 million to the project and will manage Ironville Dock operations.
Paul Toth, the port authority's president, was one of several dedication speakers who highlighted cooperative efforts among the port authority, the city of Toledo, and Lucas County to secure the project's funding.
"It took a lot of effort, partnership, and perseverance by a lot of people," Mr. Toth said.
Besides returning the refinery site's 71 riverfront acres to active use, the port president continued, the terminal project "really prepares us for the other 110 acres on the other side of Front Street."
That property will be well-suited for manufacturing or other transportation-oriented development, he said. It represents "our ultimate investment in long-term jobs," he said.
"Ironville is going to be the fruits of many people's labors for years to come," predicted Pete Gerken, president of the Lucas County commissioners.
The spike-driving ceremony, meanwhile, served as a demonstration of who among the dignitaries had hammer-swinging experience. While most of the politicians did all they could just to hit the spikes, Dick Gabel, an International Longshoremen's Association vice president and member of the port authority's board of directors, hammered his all the way home, as did Jason Lowery, Midwest Terminals' director of business development.
"They told me I could stop, but I said, 'No, that's going in the ground,'" said Mr. Gabel, whose dock-working career started with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad in Oregon.
Also under way is removal of underground building foundations and other remnants of the site's refinery operations. Chevron, which bought the property from Gulf after the refinery's 1982 closing, spent $19 million on pollution cleanup before selling it to the port authority.
Further construction depends on when the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration releases its grant, he said.
"We have just a couple issues we have to work through" before those funds are transferred, Mr. Lowery said. "They're committed to the project."
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