With a bit of recorded Christmas music and a brief countdown, owners of the former Sparrows Point steel mill welcomed the winter holidays by lighting the mill's traditional Star of Bethlehem on Wednesday.
The brief ceremony marked the second year officials with Tradepoint Atlantic illuminated the giant star that once adorned the blast furnace smokestack that loomed over the mill during its heyday.
After years of decline and a series of ownership changes, the mill closed for good in 2012. The company that's now known as Tradepoint Atlantic bought the property for $110 million in 2014 with the goal of transforming the site into an industrial and logistics campus. After Tradepoint demolished the blast furnace in 2015, the Star of Bethlehem was restored and moved to a water treatment plant — one of the few remaining buildings on site.
The star was made by Sparrows Point steelworkers and honors both Bethlehem Steel, which owned the mill for generations, and Bethlehem, traditionally regarded as the birthplace of Jesus, whose birth is celebrated at Christmas.
Weighing 1.5 tons and spanning 28 feet, the star "symbolizes strength, tradition and community," said Michael Moore, CEO of Tradepoint Atlantic.
Moore led a small crowd in a countdown of "5-4-3-2-1" before the 196-bulb star was turned on.
People quickly started taking photos. Julian Moya snapped pictures of his wife, Dee Moya; daughter, Stephanie Stambaugh; and granddaughter, Taylor Stambaugh.
For the Edgemere family, seeing the Star of Bethlehem aglow is a reminder of the days when the steel mill employed thousands of workers in the region. Dee Moya counted at least 15 of her relatives who worked at the mill.
"I was born and raised down here and just about all the men in my family worked here," she said.
Moya said she hopes the star's permanent home, which has not yet been determined, will place it in a bit more conspicuous spot. Currently, drivers heading toward Sparrows Point from the Key Bridge can glimpse the star — if they know just where to look.
"I think it should be a little bit higher and visible from the community," Moya said.
"But it's a good start," Stephanie Stambaugh added.
Del. Ric Metzgar snapped a picture of the illuminated star and posted it to Facebook. He said he remembers when young men would go from high school straight to work for the steel mill, and he said the star represents a promise of a bright future at the site.
"It's a star that stands for a lot of different things," said Metzgar, a Republican from Essex. "Right now, it stands for progress. Great things are beginning to happen. You can feel optimism in the air."
In the year since the 2015 lighting at the water treatment plant, the old steel mill has undergone a raft of changes: the name was changed from Sparrows Point Terminal to Tradepoint Atlantic and some tenants were announced, including Under Armour, Pasha Automotive and Atlantic Forest Products.
Moore said 2016 "certainly has been a very busy year. We grew as a company, we welcomed new tenants and we achieved all of the goals that we set for ourselves."
Of 2017, he said: "It is going to be a year of growth and opportunity as we work to transform this site."
"We believe thousands of people will come to work and once again gaze at the warm lights of this iconic star," he said.