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Groundbreaking Held for $1.5 Billion Keystone Trade Center in Bucks County

Like a Phoenix, the U.S. Steel Fairless Works site that closed its doors and left thousands of workers in the lurch in 2001 will have a new use.

On Thursday, chilly wind and blowing dust did not deter the groundbreaking for a $1.5 billion project for the new Keystone Trade Center to be built in Falls Township by NorthPoint.

Among those wielding ceremonial shovels were state Sen. Steve Santarsiero; Jeff Dence, chairman, Falls Township Board of Supervisors; Robert Harvie Jr., Bucks County Commissioners chairman; and Jeremy Michael, vice president of Development for NorthPoint Development.

At the 1,800-acre property, NorthPoint plans to build 15 million square feet of warehouse and light industrial use buildings, said Eric Yovanovick, project manager. He expects the first building to be completed by the end of the year, with 19 more structures to follow.

NorthPoint received a Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zone waiver allowing it to benefit from a 15-year tax abatement, Santarsiero said.

Sen. Steve Santarsiero

“The economic return on this is going to be tremendous for the town, the county, and the school district, as well,” said Santarsiero (D-Bucks). “Ultimately, when this is up and running, and it’s employing about 10,000 people, that’s an economic boom for the entire region.”

“In fact, they’re giving the school district through an agreement, (they’re) making the school district whole,” Santarsiero said.

“We all had to come together to approve this extension of the Opportunity Zone so they could get the tax abatement,” said TR Kennan, president of the Pennsbury School Board. “But the community benefits.”

And even though NorthPoint’s new Keystone Trade Center will not be paying taxes, it will pay $500,000 to the school district each year for 15 years, plus an additional $110,000 in payments in lieu of taxes each year, said Kennan.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” he said. “They’ll bring jobs,” and those employees will pay taxes.

Michael said he met so many people during his time in the area who either worked at the steel plant or had relatives who did.

“It’s amazing how much the site is part of the community,“ Michael said. “A brownfield development like this is certainly a heavy lift.” But, he added, “many people have applied their expertise to put the site back into productive use. We’re working to bring back the site’s rich history.”

He thanked the government officials and the consultants who have worked to make the deal happen. NorthPoint purchased the property in 2020 and it was “a major transaction for all parties involved.”

When it is completed, it will be “the largest Class A industrial development on the East Coast,” he said. When they first approached the community, “we were met with a certain level of skepticism.” But they won over their critics.

“Capital goes where capital is welcome,” he said.

“Location, location, location really does mean something,” said Harvie. He noted that 80 years ago, the land was alfalfa fields, then the largest steel mill in the nation was built there that offered “good jobs” and helped to build Lower Bucks County.

But the area is a prime location, located between Philadelphia and New York with easy access to I-95 and other highways, he said. The new development will offer thousands of construction jobs and then thousands of permanent jobs.

“We’ve got one of the largest e-commerce- sites in the states,” said Harvie, adding he had once been a Falls Township supervisor.

“Having a willing partner owning this site makes a tremendous amount of difference,” Harvie said.

(from left) Rich Goodman, NorthPoint development manager; Tim Holliday, regional vice president at NorthPoint; state Rep. Frank Farry, land use attorney at Begley Carlin; Troy McMahan, senior director at Northwestern Mutual; TR Kannan, Pennsbury School Board president; state Sen. Steve Santarsiero; Rep. John Galloway; Falls Supervisors Chairman Jeff Dence; Bucks County Commissioners Chairman Robert Harvie; Jeremy Michael, NorthPoint vice president of development; Eric Yovanovich, NorthPoint project manager.

State Rep. John Galloway (D-Levittown) said the development “has been a collaborative effort between many people,” both Democrats and Republicans.

“I was born in Levittown 62 years ago,” he said. “My brothers worked in the steel mill. This was the center of our whole world. This was the economic driver of the lower end (of Bucks County).”

But when it closed, things became very difficult for people because jobs disappeared.

“I want to thank NorthPoint for more than just creating 10,000 jobs,” said Galloway. “The ceremonial digging of this dirt represents the rebirth of the lower end (and) the hope of the people who, for a long time, had no hope at all,” he said.

Northpoint, a St. Louis, Missouri-based corporation, has raised more than $9.5 billion since 2002, developed and managed more than 126 million square feet of industrial space, and created more than 65,000 jobs with 423 industrial partners around the country, officials said.

NorthPoint Development started out as a privately held commercial real estate developer specializing in industrial and multi-family development. Since then, NorthPoint has grown to 10 companies, emphasizing a factory-to-front-door model, officials said.

The corporation also touts its “Beyond the Contract,” philosophy which embodies the concept that no contract can be written to reflect everything that will occur in a complex real estate transaction.

“Our approach in all business relationships is to be fair and operate by the ‘Golden Rule,’” officials said.

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Suspended Falls Township Police Chief Says He’s Aiding Feds in Probe

Falls Township Police Chief Nelson Whitney dropped a bomb days after being placed on paid administrative leave. Not only is he being investigated by the township for performance-related allegations–but his attorney says Whitney is also a witness in a federal probe.

The move followed a no-confidence vote from the local police union, citing an “absolutely toxic” work environment and “non-existent morale,” according to media reports. In Whitney’s absence, Lt. Henry Ward is now in charge of the 53-person department.

Township officials confirmed the suspension but refused to provide Whitney’s salary and declined further comment on the personnel matter.

In a statement released later by his lawyer, Whitney claimed he was served with a federal grand jury subpoena.

Attorney Scott Pollins said authorities sought his client’s cooperation in an ongoing probe, but he did not specify the nature of the investigation.

The top cop hinted that he feared his cooperation was linked to the Police Association of Falls Township’s (PAFT) no-confidence vote.

“Chief Whitney has retained legal counsel to investigate whether the chief’s cooperation in a federal investigation has any connection to the recent no-confidence vote by PAFT or him being placed on administrative leave by Falls Township,” Pollins wrote.

Pollins did not respond to a phone call from Delaware Valley Journal seeking additional comment.

A 33-year department veteran, Whitney became the acting township police chief in late 2020 following Chief William Cox’s retirement. He was appointed to the position permanently at the start of last year.

His attorney claims Whitney “sought to make cultural changes and implement efficient business practices” in the department that may have ruffled feathers.

Union leaders paint a much bleaker picture of the police force under Whitney, which resulted in 40 of 48 members favoring the no-confidence measure.

In a letter obtained by LevittownNow, Union President Edward Elmore cited problems solving grievances and Whitney’s apparent “contempt” for rank-and-file officers, including some who were so “disillusioned with the workplace” that they left for another department not long into tenures with Falls Township Police.

The union leader also claimed Whitney referred to officers as “hunters” and “continued and expanded” illegal ticket quota practices in the department, offering officers perks for issuing more citations.

“One of the most repugnant aspects was when the chief offered Wawa gift cards to any officer who could beat his ‘high score’ with tickets within a given month,” Elmore wrote. “This practice has also created an enormous financial liability for the township’s citizens. By statute, all such citations are null and void; each may be required to be refunded. This liability increases with each passing day that this practice is not ended.”

The Bucks County Courier Times reported at least five former and current Falls Township police officers filed suits against the township and police over allegations that they faced harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

An arbitrator earlier this year ordered fired officer Stephanie Metterle to be reinstated after she was accused of lying in a 2019 Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission complaint about serving on the township’s Major Incident Response Team, the outlet reported.

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