Problems with selling abandoned Terex factory may lie underground

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Soil contamination appears to be one of the major stumbling blocks in the sale and redevelopment of the sprawling Terex complex in northeast Cedar Rapids that's been mostly idle for over two years.

Massive road paving, rock crushing and rock screening equipment was once made at the 51-acre complex that had provided employment for several thousand when it was a local company called Iowa Manufacturing. The complex stretches from the "Irish Triangle" area of northeast Cedar Rapids east to Mount Mercy University.

The scattered white wood, steel and brick buildings enclose 578,307 square feet of manufacturing space. It was advertised at $5.5 million in September 2010, when the company was auctioning off its equipment.

Under its rusty exterior, the property is rich with promise, and adjacent users want to buy some of it.

It's been discussed as the site for a plasma arc solid waste facility that would use the energy from garbage to generate steam or electricity, although that project has been more focused on sites in Marion.

The city of Cedar Rapids has been trying to buy part of it as an essential link in its planned CEMAR east-west recreational trail between Cedar Rapids and Marion.

During a period of near-record low interest rates, the property may seem like a steal. But despite numerous rumors, no buyers have yet surfaced.

Tom Erger of Cabinet Studio, 700 16th St. NE adjacent to Terex, was part of a group of area property owners that made a serious effort to buy the property.

But he dropped out of the discussions, he said, because Terex wanted the buyer to assume liability for any soil contamination on the property. Moreover, it wasn't willing to disclose detailed finding of its own environmental studies on the site until it had an offer on the table.

"There is enough hazardous waste of one form or another in the portion that borders our property that nobody seems interested in taking on the risk," Erger said.

Erger thinks it might require city involvement and an EPA brownfields grant to redevelop at least some of the property. He said the city didn't appear interested in his initial inquiries.

Scott Olson, a Cedar Rapids City Council member and a commercial Realtor who worked with the Terex property before he was elected, said the city is interested in helping out. But it can't seek any brownfields cleanup grants until a buyer has made a purchase offer and has plans to redevelop the site, he added.

Olson said he gave up working the Terex listing after he was elected to the city council because of possible conflicts of interest with the property, considering talks about the plasma arc solid waste project and other possibilities involving the city.

Olson said Terex has been extremely cautious in its approach to selling the property recently, working directly with buyers instead of going through a real estate agency. He acknowledged that liability avoidance is part of the issue.

The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance issued a statement in response to a Gazette inquiry about its work with prospective buyers.

“The Economic Alliance continues to work with parties interested in the former Terex property," the statement said. "It is a viable piece of land that offers great redevelopment opportunities.”

Terex continues to operate some office functions in the area, but the onetime Iowa Manufacturing complex that once used thousands of workers is now largely silent.

"I look at it as a sign of the times," said Larry Parks of nearby Vetter-Parks Lumber, 620 17th St. NE. Parks said he remains hopeful that "something exciting will happen next door."

When asked what he considered a positive future for the property, he responded, "Not a solid waste plasma plant."

A Terex spokesman declined to discuss environmental issues involved with the property, but added that the company continues to work with interested buyers.

Erger of Cabinet Studio has shown his ability to redevelop old properties when he purchased and renovated the historic Shores Building, which housed a prominent Cedar Rapids catalog sales company.

Erger said he thinks the Terex property will attract more interest when the city has worked through more of its flood recovery issues and has more attention to devote to it. He hopes other area property owners are successful in acquiring some of the less contaminated pieces of the complex, which in turn might focus more attention on disposal and cleanup of the remainder.

"It's going to take some real effort the way things have gone to this point," Erger said.

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