Demolition continues at the old Pfizer Plant
Demolition work continues at the old Pfizer plant Tuesday in Wilson. For decades, the property was known as Pfizer Corp. and later Harcross Pigments. It was most recently home to Venator Materials, a corporate spin off of Texas giant Huntsman Corp. (Rick Kintzel/The Morning Call)
1 / 27The sights and sounds of heavy equipment show demolition well underway at a former Easton-area industrial site known to locals as Pfizer pigments — and before that, C.K. Williams.
The company that purchased the property earlier this year has remained mostly silent on its plans.
But officials in Wilson, where most of the plant sits, and an executive with a separate company said in recent interviews that there is a sales agreement, and the prospective purchaser intends to redevelop the property.
It has not submitted formal plans yet, but NorthPoint Development of Riverside of Missouri, near Kansas City, foresees a new, 800,000-square-foot building that could bring as many as 400 to 500 jobs to the longtime manufacturing facility that has been shut down about three years.
“We are under contract with the current owner, and we are exploring doing an industrial redevelopment,” Chief Marketing Officer Brent Miles said.
The property is currently owned by Abacus Industrial Holdings LLC, which bought the 107 acres early this year from the owners of the former Huntsman Pigments Plant, records show.
Abacus officials have declined requests to be interviewed, but an attorney for the company, Kenneth Alweis, told The Morning Call earlier this year the plan is to demolish the plant buildings and redevelop the property.
“The community will benefit,” he said. “You will not have this giant, empty plant.”
The property, which borders several streets and takes in Wilson, Easton and Palmer Township, has been vacant since December 2017.
Prospects for redevelopment please officials in Wilson, where most of the plant lies, according to its attorney.
Stanley Margle, said NorthPoint officials have met with the borough. He and Miles said the preliminary plans might encompass a mix of commercial, including distribution, and professional office space.
“The primary purpose of what we have seen thus far is not going to be a big-box warehouse,” Margle said.
Miles said the company might also add a “retail or service component” to the site, particularly to serve hundreds of potential workers. “It could be a nice complementary use,” he said.
Demolition work continues at the old Pfizer plant Tuesday in Wilson. For decades, the property was known as Pfizer Corp. and later Harcross Pigments. It was most recently home to Venator Materials, a corporate spin off of Texas giant Huntsman Corp. (Rick Kintzel / The Morning Call)Wilson has seen the loss of heavy manufacturing over the decades, from the former Dixie Cup plant to the closing of Mack Printing. More recently, Margle said, the borough and Wilson Area School District have lost thousands of dollars in tax revenue when the owner of Easton Hospital, the for-profit Steward Health Care, sold to St. Luke’s University Health Network, which as a nonprofit is exempt from paying property taxes.
“If the project goes through, that’s going to help with the loss of revenue,” Margle said, noting things are preliminary. “It’s a very good time; we’re happy to see it come.”
Miles said the company has developed approximately 15-million-square feet in Pennsylvania alone, including along Interstate 78 in Berks County, the former Schuylkill Mall near Frackville.
Locally, NorthPoint is developing a two-building, 1.2-million-square foot warehouse near Route 248 in Upper Nazareth Township, and is awaiting approvals on a 433,000-square-foot warehouse on Padula Road in Forks Township.
Like other out-of-state developers, NorthPoint has been drawn to the Valley and eastern Pennsylvania because of several factors, notably easy access to millions of people within a day’s drive.
“We continue to invest in Pennsylvania; it makes a lot of sense to us,” Miles said.
While many formerly industrial properties can pose major environmental and other challenges, their highway access and other transportation links make them attractive to warehouse developers, said Kevin McGowan, owner of McGowan Corporate Real Estate Advisors in Upper Macungie Township.
The Pfizer/Huntsman site’s proximity to population centers in southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York make it especially central, McGowan said. He said the site’s location also makes it suitable to draw labor from neighboring Easton and Wilson, and it is within easy access to public transportation.
“It could have multiple uses,” McGowan said. “It’s a good site.”
McGowan, who is not involved in the project, assumes NorthPoint is in the process of figuring out what would best work for the property.
“Their specialty is top-notch warehouse development,” McGowan said, “but one would have to assume that they would be opportunistic to build whatever the market demands.”
Aside from municipal approvals from planning, zoning and land development, McGowan said the property will need to be vetted with state transportation and environmental officials.
On the environmental side, spokesperson Colleen Connolly said for a company to satisfy outstanding environmental issues at its site, it must remediate the site to statewide standards for whichever contaminant is found at the site.
That role appears to fall to Abacus, but Miles said it was still being negotiated and declined further comment.
- The Easton-area manufacturing facility, which first produced iron oxide, or a chemical compound composed of iron and oxygen, began operating in 1876 under the name C.K. Williams Co.
- The facility was purchased by Pfizer, Inc. in 1962 and in 1984 the corporate entity that owned and operated the plant was incorporated as Pfizer Pigments, Inc., a subsidiary of Pfizer Inc. The plant changed corporate hands several times, most recently going to corporate giant Huntsman in 2014.
- In 2009, the plant employed about 115. By the time Venator Materials, a corporate spinoff of Huntsman, decided to close in 2017, employment had fallen to 80 workers. Venator chose to close the site as part of a $90 million “business improvement plan” that included improving manufacturing efficiency.
Morning Call reporter Anthony Salamone can be reached at 610-820-6694 or firstname.lastname@example.org.