CLEVELAND, Ohio — Duane Steelman of Zaclon LLC, a chemical company in the industrial Flats, made a crunching sound with his heavy black walking shoes as he strode through drifts of gray dust and tiny bits of slag that had blown onto the sidewalk along Independence Road.
With each step, he created a small puff of dust and left a footprint like an astronaut walking on the moon.
“It’s stuff from the mill,’’ he said, referring to the ArcelorMittal steel operation across the street. “It kind of blows over.‘’
Independence Road, which cuts through the ArcelorMittal plant within sight of the Cuyahoga River, might not seem the most promising place to locate a new riverfront park.
But planners associated with the City of Cleveland’s Vision for the Valley project are jazzed about the idea, which they floated for the first time in July in draft recommendations released for public comment.
Early talks underway
The park idea also intrigues Steelman’s employers, Joe Turgeon and Jim Krimmel, the chairman and CEO, respectively, of Zaclon, which calls itself the world’s largest producer of galvanizing fluxes.
Krimmel, Turgeon and members of the Vision for the Valley team said in recent interviews with cleveland.com that they’re in early discussions about the possibility of turning up to 11 acres of Zaclon property into a riverfront park.
The park, which would serve low-income East Side neighborhoods that have never had direct access to the river, could accommodate a boat or kayak launch in one of the most heavily industrialized portions of the river.
The park could also be linked to the Slavic Village Downtown Connector, a 3.5-mile off-road bike trail planned for the East Side that could be completed over the next decade.
A spur from the connector at Dille Avenue could provide a route downhill to Independence Road and the Zaclon riverfront property.
“We’re excited about this opportunity and we’re cautiously optimistic that any of the barriers can be overcome,’’ Krimmel said Thursday.
Hurdles for the park include finding a nonprofit or public entity, such as Cleveland Metroparks, that would be willing to lease or acquire one or more of Zaclon’s riverfront parcels.
Krimmel and Turgeon, who also participated in the interview, said they’re willing to negotiate with a nonprofit or public agency over a price for the land.
Zaclon owns more than 38 acres on both sides of Independence Road valued at more than $1.7 million according to Cuyahoga County property records. The company plans to continue operations on a portion of the property, but is interested in eventually selling or leasing much of the rest, including the riverfront acreage.
“We’re not just going to give everything away,’’ Krimmel said of the riverfront parcels. “But we’re not trying to squeeze every penny out of it.”
A first step
Krimmel and Turgeon said a logical first step could be to sell or lease a 2.76-acre parcel just north of the I-490 bridge, which travels over the property. The parcel has riverfront access and a 9,000-square-foot steel shed, built in the 1950s, that could be used for boat storage.
Other Zaclon land along the river, now leased to another chemical company, could be added to the park footprint over the next 10 or 20 years, they said.
Metroparks, which has participated in the Vision for the Valley planning process, has not yet had discussions with Zaclon. But planners for the parks agency said the idea of a riverfront park is worth exploring.
“It’s one of the big, cool ideas from Vision for the Valley,’’ said Sara Maier, senior strategic planner for Metroparks. “If there’s a possibility for riverfront access [at Zaclon] it’s our duty to look into it.”
The Zaclon property forms the original site of a plant established in 1866 by Eugene Grasselli, who supplied sulfuric acid to John D. Rockefeller’s nascent Standard Oil refinery along the nearby Kingsbury Run creek.
DuPont, the global chemical firm, acquired the Grasselli operation in the 1920s; Kimmel and Turgeon, both former DuPont employees, bought the plant in 1987, forming Zaclon.
At its height under DuPont in the 1960s, the plant had scores of buildings and roughly 600 employees. Today, it has three buildings and 23 employees, Kimmel and Turgeon said.
Over the past decade, the company has sought to remediate contaminated soils through a voluntary program of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Krimmel and Turgeon said they’ve used asphalt to cap soils along the riverfront contaminated since the 19th century with lead, zinc, chromium, and arsenic. They’re waiting to receive documentation from the OEPA that no more cleanup is needed.
Vision for a once-forgotten valley
The City of Cleveland initiated the yearlong Vision for the Valley planning process in 2019, and plans to wrap up later this summer.
Goals of the $250,000 project include resolving land use conflicts among industry, recreation, entertainment and residential development along seven miles of the Cuyahoga River as it winds through the middle of the city.
A major theme of the project is that industry can be compatible with recreation and environmental restoration.
Public comments are still being gathered through Aug. 14 on the project’s website, and through online “Office Hour’’ meetings, also accessible through the website.
Arthur Schmidt, a senior planner with OHM Advisors, the lead consulting firm working on the plan, said he’s excited that the Zaclon park idea is gathering attention.
“It would be absolutely amazing,” he said. “No question.”
Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Jim Krimmel’s last name.