'Huge opportunity' [The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo. :: ]
(Pueblo Chieftain (CO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 12--Row after row of warehouses.
A workshop with operable machining equipment.
Acres of open land.
Areas that look like a movie set for some retro industrial-age drama -- an idea actually pitched to the state's movie commission.
It all beckons to Pueblo economic development leaders.
Members of the Pueblo Economic Development Corp. board of directors on Thursday received a close-up of what the Pueblo Chemical Depot property has to offer, and a reminder of its past role in providing Pueblo jobs.
Russell DeSalvo, executive director of Puebloplex, the local redevelopment authority overseeing re-use of the depot property, gave a guided tour of the premises.
"You're the opinion leaders in Pueblo when it comes to economic development, and we appreciate your interest in coming out here today," DeSalvo told the PEDCO group.
The property's potential is enormous, according to PEDCO officials, who see their own efforts working hand-in-glove with Puebloplex.
"We see this as a huge opportunity. It could be incredible if we find the right fit. This has the potential to be a great asset," said Jack Rink, president and CEO of PEDCO.
Opened in 1942, the depot began as a vital link in the military supply chain during World War II. After the war, it provided an ever-shifting role in national defense: a bunker for chemical weapons, a warehouse for Nazi art and the site of Pershing missile destruction.
At one point in the 1950s, it provided 8,000 jobs, or 40 percent of Pueblo's total employment at that time.
Later, the missions dwindled and, in 1988, the depot was targeted for closure. The process has been slow because of delays in the program to destroy the depot's stockpile of chemical weapons.
Puebloplex, created by the state Legislature in 1994, got the green light last year to directly manage two-thirds of the 23,000-acre depot property.
The other land and buildings will remain under Army control until the 780,000 rounds of mustard-agent weapons are destroyed.
"This is the size of the city of Miami," DeSalvo explained as PEDCO members climbed aboard the bus.
Looking at the cars and workers scrambling about the area, one visitor remarked, "I thought this was closed."
But, as the depot's commander Lt. Col. Michael Quinn explained, there are still 336 workers at the depot itself, and many more at the chemical weapons destruction plant.
The vision of Puebloplex is to have the depot keep providing jobs for Pueblo, but it's a big task. In addition to taking over the electric, water, police and fire services to the depot, the authority also helps oversee the cleanup of hazardous waste sites throughout the area.
"There has already been $100 million of environmental cleanup, and there will be $100 million to $300 million more," DeSalvo said. "It will be great when we have the stigma of chemical weapons removed."
There is an appeal to the depot that companies already find alluring. Many buildings already have been leased, mainly as warehouses. Overall, 6 million square feet of space is available.
There are large parcels of land that could be built upon, located near enough but not too close to population centers.
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