CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The over 120 year old Kanawha Manufacturing Company on Charleston’s East End is about to undergo a monumental $20 million dollar transformation into a modernized innovation center.

After purchasing the 9-acre, 110,000 square foot site for $2 million last year, the Charleston Area Alliance is rendering plans to begin demolishing most of the former warehouse and revitalizing the remaining portion.

The Kanawha Manufacturing Plant on Charleston’s East End will be transformed into the LIFT facility. (Photo/MetroNews)

They recently met at the site to discuss their plans with the community and present them with a lay out of what it is to become in the near future as the new LIFT Center– the learning, innovation, food, and technology center.

Marshall University Economic Workforce Development Vice President Brandon Dennison said that the $20 million project will not only benefit the community of Charleston but the entire state.

“I’m proud of the economic development, the economic impacts, but also this facility is going to change lives, it’s really going to be an asset for everyone,” Dennison said.

The overall plan is to reuse existing manufacturing space in the former warehouse by renovating it and converting it into a 55,000 square foot multi-use facility for workforce development, renewable and alternative energy production, and a commercial food hub.

Dennison said there is enough space for a total of five tenants to occupy the facility and so far there are three confirmed ones, organizations and programs that will conduct the aforementioned services.

The tenants so far that plan to move into the facility include the Charleston Pathway Center who will help create job pathways for people who may have fallen out of the workforce somehow and are looking to get back in, or those who are just starting out in the workforce and need the skills training to do so.

The next is the Charleston Food Hub. They will support agripreneurs, entrepreneurs who have a food and agriculture-based product or business that they need help getting off the ground. The food hub will work with the agripreneurs to create more jobs in the agriculture sector and help smaller farmers aggregate produce to get better prices and grow their business.

Finally, the third tenant is Marshall University’s Green Battery Institute through its college of engineering.

Dennison said it could be argued that the country’s entire modern economy is built off of battery technology, and Marshall’s Battery Institute will help to advance the future of battery technology even further and make its production more sustainable.

“With the advent of EV, electric vehicles and even electrical vertical take-off technology used in aviation, we need to make batteries much more efficient as they currently are, we need to be researching to make sure that they’re safe, and we also need to figure out how to better dispose of the rare earth and other vital minerals and materials that goes into batteries,” he said.

The LIFT Center is just one of the eight different projects within the Appalachian Climate Technologies, or ACT Now Coalition that’s led by the Coalfield Development Corporation.

The coalition itself was formed as a response to the nearly $100 million in federal funds the state was awarded through the EDA’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge.

Dennison said the state competed with hundreds of other applicants across the country and actually landed the third largest award meant to focus on creating clean energy jobs, implementing sustainable reuse projects on abandoned mine sites, and rejuvenating brownfield sites such as the Kanawha Manufacturing plant. The projects span across the 21 counties of Southern West Virginia.

Dennison said the LIFT Center as well as the other connected projects will help keep the Mountain State on the energy economy map.

“The idea is that energy markets are changing, we want West Virginia to stay an energy state, we’re proud to have been an energy state, we want to stay an energy state all the above and continue to provide that for the country,” Dennison said.

He said the specific cost of the LIFT Center is $13 million but they expect to leverage additional dollars for the project towards a total of $20 million when it’s all finished.

The coalition is working with the architecture and engineering company known as the Thrasher Group to prepare the site for what’s to come and get the project off the ground.

Environmental Project Manager with the Thrasher Group Sam Wilkes said the demolition process is about to get underway on the former Kanawha Manufacturing Company.

He said they are working with the firm Reclaim out of Fairmont to conduct the reclamation of the property.

Wilkes provides a little more information about what the community can expect starting out the early phase of the project.

“A lot of what’s here on the property will be reclaimed, recycled, that was a question I had earlier from some of the public, but the process will take roughly about four months,” he said.

Wilkes said nearly the entire site is up for demolition.

“There’s one structure on the site that’s not going to be demolished, that’s the largest warehouse facility where the major manufacturing facility was at under Kanawha Manufacturing, but everything else will be demolished in the process,” said Wilkes.

Dennison said the former Kanawha Manufacturing has quite the past and their plan is to try and preserve the rich history it represents the best they can.

“One hundred and twenty years of manufacturing railcars, manufacturing equipment to service the coal industry and other heavy industries, so thousands of West Virginians have worked here, made a living here, contributed to the Charleston economy, contributed to the West Virginia economy, and so this facility is really about honoring that heritage of hard work,” Dennison said.

In addition to the Charleston Area Alliance and the Coalfield Development Corporation, the project is being developed in partnership with the City of Charleston, the WV Department of Economic Development, WV International Yeager Airport, and Advantage Valley.

The city has committed to match $1.25 million towards the project.

Leave a Reply