CLEARWATER - Starting today, no one walking around the former Seminole Mills fabric factory will be allowed to do so without wearing a hard hat.
Construction crews start demolishing the factory this week and state officials touring the site Monday wore the safety hats as they inspected the burned-out buildings and rusted machinery.
Most of the old plant should be gone by the end of September if NEO Corp. meets its deadline to clean out the asbestos and tear down the buildings damaged by fire more than a decade ago.
When completed, the only thing that will be left standing from Seminole Mills will be the smokestack and the part of the building with the sign.
"Hopefully, that (the smokestack) will become an integral part of the design of whatever we put here," said Joan Donnelly, the assistant county administrator.
The 26-acre site on Belvedere-Clearwater Road is the focus of efforts to redevelop and revitalize the Clearwater area.
The site will feature a park, Ms. Donnelly said, and possibly affordable housing and an assisted living facility or senior housing, based on suggestions made last year by the community.
But first, the county has to spend thousands making it safe for the public.
Ms. Donnelly said the county has $200,000 in grant money from the Environmental Protection Agency, $165,000 in state funding and $2 million from sales tax money to pay for the cleanup and demolition.
Jack Watts, the project manager for the NEO Corp., said they hope to have the environmental cleanup completed by September.
The 1996 fire that destroyed the plant's main building left roofs caved in, broken glass on the floor and a pile of rusted metal rubble.
"There was a lot of money that burned up in here," Mr. Watts said.
Miguel Roldan, a manager with NEO Corp., said the company will recycle whatever metal it can salvage, but the rest will be taken to landfills.
Ms. Donnelly said the site also has been the target of thefts over recent years, usually people looking for copper.
Since the fire, she said, "it's just been sitting here as an eyesore to the community."
It's not the only property the county has its eye on. Ms. Donnelly said they have another $200,000 EPA grant to assess the environmental damage inflicted by the Clearwater Finishing plant, which is beside Seminole Mills.
The owner of the property, she said, is in talks to give the county part of the 60-acre site. Both factories have been closed since the early 1990s.
Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or firstname.lastname@example.org.