PhillyDeals: West Chester cleanup firm branches out

Weston Solutions Inc., the employee-owned West Chester firm best known for cleaning Superfund sites and other contaminated properties for big corporate landlords, has started financing and developing "brownfield" construction projects on its own.

Under boss Patrick McCann, the 1,800-worker, $500 million (yearly sales) firm is buying distressed properties, renovating buildings, and seeking tenants. "We're moving into the transactional arena," new Weston executive Kathleen A. McGinty told me.

Formerly Gov. Rendell's top environmental official, McGinty joined Weston this month to head its new Green Development Division.

At a time when battered U.S. banks are reluctant to lend to builders, "we have a very, very solid balance sheet, and we're increasingly putting that balance sheet to work to make projects grow," McGinty says.

"This involves risk-taking, and bringing a variety of players to the table. On some projects, we'll own the property. On some projects, we're taking environmental liabilities onto our balance sheet. And sometimes we'll become the initial tenant," expanding Weston's network of 60 offices.

Can a plumber turn general contractor? I asked Brian O'Neill, who rebuilt industrial properties along the Schuylkill and in other states before running into trouble with bankers in the slump.

Hiring McGinty is a step in the right direction, O'Neill told me: "She has a total understanding of the environmental field." He'd like to do joint ventures with her group.

In Concord, N.H., Weston says, it's been converting a contaminated ex-factory into a "green" office building. In Lakewood, Colo., Weston is building an office-retail complex at a decontaminated ex-auto dealership. In Hawaii, it's turning a gasworks into condominiums.

On environmental projects over the last 25 years, Weston vice president Jay Motwani says, he and colleagues learned to guide clients' redevelopment projects past potentially hostile and suspicious citizens, activists, and local officials, expanding the scope of Weston's services.

In Chester, for example, Buccini/Pollin Group, of Wilmington, hired Weston to deal with soil problems at its Philadelphia Union soccer stadium, but ended up also using Weston as its community-relations arm, says Mayor Walter Butler.

"We had them come and explain to lay people, residents, and activists, exactly how this remediation was going to occur," Butler told me. "They did it step by step. When unknown materials popped up in the excavations, they called [state officials] over to take samples. They never did anything before they contacted my office first. They put the information online, and they put it in the Chester library. I thought that was great."

The online vote

Keith Layman, a teacher at Garnet Valley High School, hasn't had time to sort the annual corporate statements that clog his mailbox. "Who reads proxy ballots? You don't have time."

Layman wants guidance from "an advocate I trust." He says he finds that at www.moxyvote.com, the West Chester website started last year by Rich and Kevin Gates, founder-owners of $1.2 billion asset investment manager TFS Capital L.L.C., whom Layman met when they all attended Conestoga High School in the 1980s.

Moxy allows shareholders to vote their proxy statements online - and review corporate voting recommendations, from Catholic and Unitarian groups, labor unions, and animal-cruelty critics, Wall Street firms, and libertarians.

Layman's brokers at RBC Dain Rauscher Corp. accepted his Moxy votes for shares in his account. TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., eTrade Financial Corp., and other big brokers also cooperate, Moxy cofounder Jeff Marshall told me.

But Malvern-based Vanguard Group's brokerage won't work with Moxy, despite an endorsement from retired Vanguard founder John Bogle. "No comment," Vanguard spokeswoman Linda Wolohan told me. Moxy has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to set up "reasonable" guidelines to encourage holdouts such as Vanguard to make online voting easier.

Prices

$99,000: Average paid by builder Jeff Franz (Toll Bros. Inc. boss Robert Toll's son-in-law) for each of Kennett Square developer Carl Chetty's 350 units at Millview Apartments in Coatesville, through broker Marcus & Millichap.

$3.7 million: Confirmed paid by developer Donald Trump for South Jersey's former Pine Hill golf club, now Trump National Golf Club-Philadelphia, after I reported it last week. Trump also says he's doubled membership.

$194 million: Invested last month by Advent International Corp., Boston, in Five Below, the (ex-Zany Brainy bosses) Tom Vellios-David Schlessinger-run, Ira Lubert-backed teeny-bopper dollar-store chain, according to a recent SEC filing picked up by Robert D. Hunt of www.FormDs.com.


Contact columnist Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194 or JoeD@phillynews.com.