Grants for Vortex/Zeller sites in Defiance spark hope for the future | Local News

Rivai H Tukimen

Two former industrial properties in Defiance no longer have a business purpose, but officials are hoping that could change in the future.

Their immediate concern, though, is to clean up the sites on South Jackson Avenue and Baltimore Road, which today are abandoned eyesores.

One is where Vortex last operated; the other is where Zeller Corp. most recently did business. Both are in the southwest quadrant of the city.

Each is privately owned, but the county’s land bank — composed of several officials from Defiance County and the City of Defiance to deal with blighted properties — has received a $529,114 grant from the Ohio Department of Development for the Vortex cleanup and $182,025 for additional environmental assessments on the Zeller site.

During the Vortex cleanup, two buildings will be taken down, including a brick structure that shows major deterioration. That will render the property ready for redevelopment, although there is no reputed interest at the moment.

“… we have been in discussions with some prospects, and there really hasn’t been interest there,” said Defiance County Community Improvement Corporation Director Erika Willitzer. “But a lot of times people are so visual, so if maybe we can get that torn down it’s not going to look like such an obstacle and maybe then they would want to site there.”

Defiance Mayor Mike McCann indicated that both property owners have been cooperative. The land bank would first have to develop a cooperative agreement with each before the grant funds can be utilized.

The Zeller site is more complicated than the Vortex property. Although there are no buildings on the former Zeller land — the buildings having been removed not long after the company closed in 2001 — additional environmental testing is needed according to Ohio EPA before a remediation plan to remove any hazards can be implemented.

McCann said Ohio Development Director Lydia Mihalik — who visited Defiance Wednesday to announce the aforementioned grants — has indicated that follow-up funding could be coming to finish the Zeller cleanup. The main feature on that site is a large amount of concrete that had formed the factory floor.

Willitzer would like to see the Baltimore Road corridor developed if the Zeller property can be cleaned up. The road serves as an entry into Defiance from the west, but has a number of abandoned or vacant buildings and sites.

“If we can get that all remediated we can do something that I’ve been dreaming about which is revitalizing that corridor,” she said. “Many people that have come into Defiance — one of the things that they mention … is they don’t feel like our entrances are beautified. I think if we can get some development there, get that cleaned up, it’s going to make a huge difference.”

If the Zeller and Vortex properties can be cleaned up — and work continues on schedule with the former SK Hand Tool site adjacent to the city’s eastern corporation limits — McCann noted that the three big brownfield eyesores in and around Defiance would be gone.

“With the SK property, Zeller and Vortex behind us on the brownfield side of the things we really don’t have that much more,” he said.

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