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Building on a brownfield Featured

9:32am EDT July 22, 2002

It was a chilly morning in late 1997 when Jergens Inc. President Jack Schron Jr. pulled up to what is now the site of his company's headquarters at the former Collinwood railroad yard, just off East 152nd Street.

The first thing that caught his eye was the dead dog -- probably one of the many stray animals on the property -- but that was the least of it. There was an enormous pile of bald tires, discarded sinks and refrigerators, and a crumbling powerhouse with teetering smokestacks.

"Hey, this is great, isn't it?" Schron quipped to his colleagues, who looked sick at the thought of this neglected parcel of land as their new home.

But Schron was destined to move the growing clamp and machine tool accessory manufacturing headquarters to the railyard, which closed in 1981. The site was only about two miles from the garage where his father and grandfather co-founded Jergens in 1942.

It was one of the first locations Schron considered after the company ruled out expanding its existing building in Warrensville Heights.

"The hardest sell of my leadership was convincing our management team that this was where our new home was going to be," Schron says. "They said, 'You have to be kidding us.'"

Schron persevered and construction began in May 1998. By September 1999, the doors for the 110,000-square-foot facility were open. Due to the environmental mess, the project required government coordination on every level, with the city and the state each chipping in $1 million to help revitalize the area.

Here's what Schron learned from the process.

Find an expert

When he first considered relocation, Schron looked at the entire Greater Cleveland area. To help focus the search, he hired a real estate agent to work on a fee basis rather than on commission.

"There won't be an incentive for them to sell you something," Schron says. "There is an incentive for them to try and educate you."

Go public

Jergens' relocation to the Collinwood railyard wouldn't have been possible without support and cooperation from city, county and state governments. The company used municipal bonds from Cleveland's Port Authority to help fund the project and the environmental clean-up.

Despite the bureaucracy, cities and counties are eager to help business owners clean up and build on their blighted industrial areas.

"This was one of the most interactive organizational challenges that some of these governments had seen in a long time," Schron says. "But that's how the process works, and I think it will work a little faster in the future because of it."

It's worth the time

Pollution surprises, EPA studies and inspections, and government partnerships all increase the timeline on a brownfield project. If a company plans to take on a project like Jergens' Collinwood relocation, there shouldn't be any kind of hurry.

"There are some that tease us that we deserve the patience award," Schron says. "I think, ultimately, if we're going to spend the next 25 to 30 years here, what's a couple months if you get it done right, and environmentally, it's the correct thing to do." How to reach: Jergens Inc., (216) 486-5540

Morgan Lewis Jr. (mlewis@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN.