Industry, preservation group seek to revive steel plant

It's an increasingly common problem in the Midwest: What do you do with a sprawling, aging steel plant that is nearly empty? US Steel Corporation is facing that problem. Its facility in Joliet, Ill. -- one of the nation's oldest steel plants -- is drastically underutilized. Only about 150 workers are left to make hot-rolled steel rods, down from a World War II peak of 7,000.

But earlier this month the corporation made a positive step toward finding a solution. It agreed to a joint venture with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to study new uses for the unused portions of the plant. Each is kicking in $45,000 for an independent assessment and marketing plan for what can be done. The study is expected to be completed in September.

``It's an important historical site,'' says Tim Turner, regional director for the National Trust. ``We see this joint venture as a real opportunity to see how that facility might be used to create new uses, new ventures.'' The emphasis will be on creating jobs, he adds.

``If this thing works out for both of us, it could well serve as a model for others -- and not only US Steel,'' says Louis V. Walsh, Midwest project manager for the corporation's real estate division.

In dramatic contrast to the cooperation in Joliet is another US Steel plant in the area, Chicago's South Works. The company wants to demolish some buildings in the plant, once slated for expansion; the state wants to boost employment at the site. ``We don't know what we're going to be permitted [to do] at South Works,'' says a US Steel spokesman.

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