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Steel Painters Inc.

Huge pilings painted for the Port of Everett dwarf a worker at one of the production buildings at Steel Painters Inc.'s new work space off Baltimore Street in Longview.

It used to be an eyesore. The sheet metals buildings were draped with rust. The pavement was a moonscape of potholes. A homeless camp had sprung up in the blackberries in back of the property.

Nearly a year later, the buildings have a fresh coat of paint. Fresh asphalt glints in the sun and new fences protect the property. The front office is modestly landscaped.

“It used to be a nothingsville. Now it looks like a business,” said John Gotshall, who spearheads the St. Vincent de Paul food bank across the street. “It’s a sign of the times.”

Neighbors like Gotshall have been thrilled to see the property at 1215 Baltimore St. transform into a successful steel painting company. They say the changes reflect the larger revitalization of Longview’s industrial area.

Kelso-based Steel Painters Inc. in October moved into the old Wayron building and immediately began sprucing it up, General Manager Bob Schuening said Thursday.

“We have needed to expand our painting facilities for a long time,” he said. “These (old Wayron buildings) are prime properties, so when they finally went up for sale, it was a huge opportunity.”

The previous owner demolished two large buildings and one smaller building before Steel Painters moved onto the 4.3-acre site next to Northwest Motor Services, which itself is a new presence on the block.

Steel Painters painted the remaining structures and created a stormwater retention pond. The company also paved about 3 acres of the lot for storage and installed new windows, fencing, streetfront landscaping and a more efficient filtering system to reduce dust emissions.

Schuening declined to say how much these improvements cost, but said the investment was “considerable.”

St. Vincent has been across from the property on Baltimore Street for about a decade. For most of that time, the area was dreary and unattractive, Gotshall said.

“It’s wonderful to see the investments that are being made by the steel painting outfit across the street that took over an eyesore and made it beautiful and workable,” said Gotshall, St. Vincent Board president. “It gives us hope that there are investments being made that could create jobs.”

Northwest Motors Services, next to Steel Painters, and H&N Sheetmetal, Inc., located at 1133 California Way, have also gone through major renovations.

White River Development, LLC, has submitted plans for two 12,000-square-foot warehouse buildings for future industrial tenants on 1.6 acres of vacant land directly west of St. Vincent’s at 1238 Baltimore St. An old Ferrell’s Lumber cabinet shop has been demolished and the site has been graded.

White River co-owner Jim White said he and his partner plan to invest about $2.5 million in the buildings, which will offer both shop and office spaces.

The improvements to other businesses started after they purchased the property earlier this year, White said.

“As soon as we started going after this, the phone started blowing up of people wanting to buy the buildings,” he said. “We essentially turned it all down because we want to stay with the leasing part.”

The City of Longview has found that the project will not negatively impact the environment. Citizens can submit comments regarding the project to the city until 6 p.m. Sept. 20. (The full environmental review for this project is attached to the online version of this story at TDN.com).

The sudden increase in development in the area could be the result of a rebounding economy, said John Brickey, the city’s community development director.

“We have an economy that is heated up after close to a decade of really slow growth in our community, so there are more demands (for services) from businesses here that are experiencing an economic upturn,” he said.

In addition, the extension of Beech Street from 14th Avenue to California Way will open up about 50 acres of currently vacant and inaccessible property, Brickey said.

The section of Beech Street was never built, but already is equipped with water mains, sewer mains and power poles.

The Longview City Council in July approved a local improvement district brought forward by the Sari family to have all property owners share the costs of the paving the street.

Schuening said extending Beech Street will both benefit Steel Painters and be “huge” for development in the industrial area.

“Our economy is built on small businesses. This will be a huge opportunity for small to medium businesses (to move in), which will also create more employment for the area,” he said.

White said he is already looking at opportunities to build similar industrial warehouses in the vacant land once Beech Street is built.

“(That area) is turning into the light industrial hub of Longview. It’s got some great potential there,” he said.

The financing plan has created some controversy from property owners who do not want to pay for the improvements, but the city is requesting additional state funds to reduce the cost for landowners, Brickey said.

“A bunch of pieces of the puzzle seem to be coming together right now … and the puzzle is jobs and economic improvements,” he said. “It’s exciting to see it happen.”

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