A planned expansion of the Progressive Foundry in downtown Perry could see the city close Second Street between Bateman and Rawson streets and the foundry erect a 14,000-square-foot building on the site in a bid to boost production and create jobs.
The Perry City Council and the Perry Planning and Zoning Commission held a joint workshop Tuesday afternoon in order to chew over the proposal with representatives from Perry’s two industrial powerhouses — the Progressive Foundry and Wiese Industries.
The foundry wants “to keep growing and adding jobs, but our limitations are now that we have outgrown our facility,” said Kirk and Darek VanKirk, owners of the Progressive Foundry, in a letter to the city of Perry. The 103-year-old Perry business produces cast iron products for agriculture and industry and employs almost 100 workers.
“The Progressive Foundry is confined,” Kirk VanKirk told the workshop attendees. “We can’t grow any more and when I say we can’t grow any more, we’re landlocked. Because we’re landlocked, we’re also confined to our production, and because we’re confined to our production, we’re kept from growing employment-wise, building-wise, business-wise.”
The foundry’s growth plan has several steps but basically boils down to enlarging its downtown footprint. The VanKirks have taken the first step by agreeing to purchase the Wiese property lying west of Third Street, that is, the Quonset huts and the building now known as Wiese building four.
Another step in the VanKirks’ proposal would see the city of Perry give the Progressive Foundry some public ground, most notably one block of Second Street between Bateman and Rawson streets.
The city’s property vacation would also include several slivers of land along the foundry’s lot lines, done in an effort to clean up some old omissions, inconsistencies and other oddities in the land records left over from the railroad’s abandonment or due to the age of the deeds, which date to the town’s founding 150 years ago.
Besides giving the foundry more room to work, which would mean more jobs and a larger tax base for Perry, closing Second Street would improve safety in the area, according to Progressive Foundry Plant Engineer Doug Six.
Six told the workshop the street closure would permit a smoother flow of truck traffic in and out of the plant — now at 20 to 25 semi-tractor trailers daily — and would make for a safer work environment for employees by limiting access to the factory. Six said the daily mix of semi and forklift traffic combined with pedestrian passersby on Second Street is an accident waiting to happen, and he showed the workshop video to prove it.
Once it acquires the land, the foundry plans to demolish its current First Avenue offices and employee facilities and “rebuild with new, larger offices consisting of additional space for a growing staff, a larger lunch room, a training center and locker rooms/showers for both men and women,” according to the VanKirks’ letters.
A 14,000-square-foot building is planned along Rawson Street that would cross Second Street and connect the existing plant with the newly acquired property, Wiese building four. In the longer term, a 22,000-square-foot building is also planned where the Wiese Quonset huts now stand at Third and Bateman streets.
Doug Krueger, maintenance supervisor at Wiese Industries, said his company has some plans of its own for growth. After selling its property west of Third Street to the Progressive Foundry, Wiese Industries will build a 30,000-square-foot building on the east side of Third Street, south of its present building three.
A fixture of Perry industry for 120 years, the Wiese Corp. was bought by a Canadian company in 2003 and became Wiese Industries. Its commitment to Perry remains strong, however, as Krueger noted when he told the workshop that production lines from the company’s Empire Plow Co. Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio, are being relocated to Perry.
Kirk VanKirk said the added room will improve safety, solve bottlenecks in the production process and accommodate new, larger machinery for more work and more jobs at the Progressive Foundry.
“Realistically, we believe within five years we can create 10 to 15 jobs,” VanKirk said. He said Pete’s Machine, a new venture opened in 2016 on the west side of First Avenue, already employs four to five workers who machine the foundry’s castings.
“That’ll be the growth of our business over the next 10 years,” VanKirk said, “even more so than the foundry. It takes a lot of technical people and knowledge in that business, more so than the labor business of the Progressive Foundry.” But a larger factory footprint is crucial to further growth.
Numerous questions and comments followed from the workshop attendees, who included Perry Mayor John Andorf, Perry City Council members Dean Berkland, Vicki Klein, Chuck Schott and Barb Wolling, Perry Planning and Zoning Commission members Frank Eiteman, Ron Leber, Matt McDevitt and Alice Miskimins, Perry Water Works Superintendent Matt Holmes, Perry City Administrator Sven Peterson, Perry Community and Economic Development Director Mike Fastenau, Perry City Clerk Paula Rychnovsky and Bolton and Menk Principal Engineer Matt Ferrier.
Council member Barb Wolling, in whose ward both factories lie, said she knows as a frequent pedestrian through the area just how congested Second Street becomes during business hours around the foundry.
Mayor John Andorf asked whether traffic counts or similar analysis has been done for the Second Street corridor and learned it has not.
Perry Water Works Superintendent Matt Holmes said the water main along Second Street would best be rerouted if the street were vacated.
“I don’t think it’s in your best interest to put a building on top of an eight-inch water main,” Holmes told the Progressive Foundry team. “If you’re going to be putting a building across that, you’re definitely going to want to do something with the water line. We can work with you and figure something out with it, but you don’t want an eight-inch water main under your building. If and when that breaks, you’re putting out 2,000 gallons a minute probably, and that would swallow a machine pretty quickly.”
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Frank Eiteman, also a 40-year veteran of the Perry Volunteer Fire Department, said closing Second Street would entail longer response times to incidents on Second Street north of Rawson. Six agreed the closed street would slow the fire trucks.
Perry Planning and Zoning Commissioner Ron Leber said he opposed closing Second Street.
“I totally support growth and increasing the tax base,” Leber said, “but I don’t support the closure of Second Street. It’s limiting access and freedom of movement of the public. You’re limiting or restricting access of the public.”
“It’s not limiting it very far,” Wolling said, observing that Second Street is not much wider than the conference table where she sat.
Perry City Administrator Sven Peterson expressed his support for the Progressive Foundry proposal, which has been in the discussion phase for 18 months.
“To have the opportunity to expand an industry within the community and improve safety, I think it’s well worth our effort to try and make that happen,” Peterson said.
Council member Chuck Schott said he found the safety issue most compelling.
“The tax base and the jobs are significant,” Schott said, “but the safety factor is the most important thing to me, and that safety factor is not going to go away if Second Street stays open. It’s going to get worse. I lived on the north side for 35 years. I used to come down through there myself over the years, and I understand it’s a little bit of an inconvenience if you have to go to the right or to the left but, my heavens, the safety situation in there now. We have to pay attention to that, too.”
“We can’t have baby strollers weaving in and out between semi trucks,” said Darek VanKirk.
Peterson summarized the work lying before the commission and the council.
“The big things that we will be looking at if we want to move forward with this project,” he said, “are vacation of the road, which goes to planning and zoning and then to the city council, and then the creation of a new zoning district and then rezoning, which again is planning and zoning and then city council, so that’s why we really wanted to get the planning and zoning commission and the city council together today so that we could present this all as one cohesive project and so that everybody has the same information at the same time.”
The Perry City Council next meets Monday, July 15 at 6 p.m. in the Clarion Room of the Security Bank Building at 1102 Willis Ave. The Perry Planning and Zoning Commission next meets Tuesday, July 16 at 5 p.m. in the Clarion Room of the Security Bank Building at 1102 Willis Ave. The meetings are open to the public, and residents are encouraged to attend.