- 1 of 3 Photos | View More Photos
Nearly six months after it changed hands, the former General Electric building on North Chestnut Street is seeing new activity, with improvements to the property under way inside and outside the structure.
But it's work that's taking place on the 47-acre tract of land surrounding the factory that has people wondering what the future holds for the site. And while the short answer to that question is nothing, the longer answer involves preventing the area from becoming a habitat for the endangered Indiana Bat.
Ray Harner, who bought the site in October in partnership with his wife, Ann, said for now, nothing is planned for the site. But a strong possibility centers around extending a railroad spur in the area and building a structure that would house raw polymer materials. Such materials are used by several industries in the area, which now go a long way to get them.
But some area residents who visit neighboring Maple Grove Cemetery, are upset about the "clear cutting" of trees that has taken place on the G.E. side of a fence separating the two.
General Electric Co. closed its plant on North Chestnut Street at S.R. 14 in Ravenna in December 2013. The Harners purchased the property in October, and are completing improvements. Two potential tenants are tentatively lined up, with space inside for others, Harner said.
When the Harners bought the property, there was talk of utilizing the remaining land for industrial development. Harner said he hasn't formulated any clear plans for that yet, but wanted to remove any potential obstacle for any opportunity that may arise. That includes the two-inch, mouse-eared Indiana Bat, which tends to live in old hardwood trees like the ones on Harner's property.
Because the bat is endangered and generally emerges from hibernation around April, Harner would have been prevented from cutting down trees during the spring and summer months had the bats moved into his field. That would prevent Harner from doing any construction until the following spring.
"I'm 67 years old," he said. "I can't afford to wait."
Harner said he wants to bring jobs to the area, much as he has done to property on North Freedom Street.
"I'm trying to do whatever I can to create jobs, so people can have food on the table," he said.
Doug Senseman, a retired government teacher at Ravenna High School, lamented the "carnage" he saw while walking through the cemetery. He took a video and posted it on Facebook. The video has more than 500 views, and Senseman said most of them came within a day of the video being posted.
He said the clear cutting was disrespectful to everyone buried in the cemetery.
"It's just incredible," he said. "They cut everything down."
Harner said he understands the concerns but said he wants to be able to seize an opportunity to build whenever an opportunity arises.
"The reality of it is that they're my trees," he said.
Mayor Frank Seman said he would discuss Senseman's concerns with him. He said the city probably will plant trees on its side of the fence as a buffer between the cemetery and the industrial area.
"Ray is a very aggressive developer," Seman said. "I think if anybody has concerns about the way that property looks, they should go to Freedom Street and see how he maintains it. I know that area will be as nice as he can make it."
He said he recently approached the Portage County commissioners, asking them to extend the county-owned rail spur behind Westrock to connect to Harner's land. The polymer material that Harner is considering warehousing is used by a number of industries in the area, who would save money on transportation if they could obtain the material locally.
"When those companies are ready to move forward, that land has to be site-ready," Seman said.
Seman, who has previously described Harner as his "hero," said he's impressed with what the developer has done on North Freedom Street, where he brought Catacel and turned underutilized quonset huts into a successful warehousing operation.