L.A. company to buy property, says it will scale back S. Amherst project
SOUTH AMHERST — The company that owns the old quarry a British developer wanted to turn into a $1.25 billion development is being sold for $22 million to the firm redeveloping Ford’s shuttered Lorain Assembly Plant.
Los Angeles-based Industrial Realty Group, the company buying American Stone, still plans to move ahead with the idea of developing nearly 1,000 acres in South Amherst and Amherst and Brownhelm townships, but on a less dramatic scale.
“We’re in the process of developing an alternate plan because frankly, I did not perceive that plan to be a reasonable plan,” IRG President Stuart Lichter said after the deal was announced Friday.
Negotiations for United Kingdom-based Trans European Securities to purchase the land from American Stone broke down earlier this year after the the British company failed to make good on agreements to buy the land for prices ranging from $15 million to $24 million.
American Stone President Tom Roulston said he would have been happy to sell the land to Trans European, but the company never followed through on its promises, and he decided to seek another buyer.
“The property has a lot of beautiful aspects, and I think Stuart saw that, and I think the Brits saw it, too,” he said. “The difference is Stuart has the dough to do it.”
Lichter said the old quarry has a lot of potential.
“You take a look at this property, and it’s a unique property within hundreds of miles,” he said. “It’s spectacular.”
Lichter said when he reveals his development plans in the next few weeks, they’ll be different from Trans European’s vision, which included building a dome over the quarry.
“Some of the things they were doing were beyond the market in terms of demand and feasibility,” he said.
Many of the same retail, residential and entertainment aspects of the project will remain, but it will be done in an entirely different way, Lichter said.
“We have a different plan, plus it’s a plan that’s going to happen,” he said.
County Administrator Jim Cordes, who has met with Lichter about his plans, said he couldn’t discuss the details.
“I don’t think it’s going to be as aggressive” as Trans European’s plans, he said.
Roulston said he’s had informal conversations with Trans European since cutting off negotiations earlier this year, but the deal with that company was essentially dead.
Cordes said county officials never told Trans European that they also were talking with IRG.
“While we were friendly with Trans European, we also had to be cognizant that another developer was interested in investing in the county,” Cordes said.
When Trans European’s local agents learned Friday of the deal between IRG and American Stone — and that the county was involved — Cordes said they told him they were disappointed.
“They believe their project was substantially bigger for the community, and they’re still looking at options,” he said.
A key selling point to IRG, Cordes said, was that the county already spent $400,000 to complete engineering on sewers that will be needed if any development is done in the area.
As a result of the sale, the county might need to alter a $300 million tax incremental financing plan that county commissioners put in place in late 2005 to pay for infrastructure such as sewers and roads.
The commissioners took heat for failing to keep township and village officials in the loop on that plan, but Amherst Township Trustee Neil Lynch said it’s too soon to tell whether Friday’s announcement will rekindle that feud or whether anything will actually be built.
Until the deal closes — which is expected to happen before year’s end — anything could happen, Lynch said.
“A lot of things can happen between then and now,” Lynch said. “Until we see they own the property, there’s no need to get excited about it.”
Commissioners Ted Kalo and Lori Kokoski called the deal good news.
“We’re glad to see somebody’s picking up the ball and moving forward,” Kalo said.
Lichter and Roulston said there are still details of the sale to work out, and kinks could still surface.
Lichter declined to comment on whether he will continue to fight county Auditor Mark Stewart’s decision to increase the taxable value of the 917 acres American Stone owns in the county from about $1.5 million in 2005 to $6.8 million last year.
Firelands Schools supported the increase, but Roulston has said the value of the land should only increase if something is built on it.
IRG will move ahead with American Stone’s plans to relocate its processing to Vermilion, where it will process stone from a quarry in Erie County.
Lichter said he plans to keep American Stone’s 30 employees, including its leadership, and continue to quarry sandstone.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.