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Published: Sunday, 5/20/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Ex-Jeep site awaits auto suppliers

Developer sought to begin construction

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Bruce Baumhower, United Auto Workers Local 12 president, says he would like to see the former Jeep plant property developed into a parts-supplier site for Chrysler's Toledo Assembly complex, less than three miles away. Local 12 represents the Toledo plant. Bruce Baumhower, United Auto Workers Local 12 president, says he would like to see the former Jeep plant property developed into a parts-supplier site for Chrysler's Toledo Assembly complex, less than three miles away. Local 12 represents the Toledo plant.
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In many ways, the Jeep Parkway site could be the perfect spot for parts suppliers to build components that will feed the expanding Chrysler Toledo Assembly plant.

It's close to I-75, has railroad access, is less than three miles from the assembly complex, and sits in the shadow of a hulking smokestack that still bears the Overland name.

But as of yet, no suppliers have signed on to locate there.

"The best salesperson in the world isn't able to sell air," said Matt Sapara, the chief financial officer for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which owns the site. "At the end of the day these people are going to be investing a small fortune to support the expansion there. They really need to know a building's going up."

The Jeep Parkway site is roughly bordered by West Central Avenue, I-75, and North Detroit Avenue.

Automobiles were built on the site for nearly 100 years, ending in 2006 when Chrysler moved to its current plant. During that time, about 11 million vehicles rolled off the assembly lines, including Overlands, military Jeeps, and lastly Jeep Cherokees. Chrysler razed the buildings in 2007.

The Port Authority purchased the 111-acre tract from Chrysler Group LLC in 2010 and has been busy cleaning polluted soil and removing the many concrete foundations that remain in order to prepare the site for a proposed 900,000-square-foot industrial complex. While the clean-up has progressed nicely, there's no building to show representatives from auto supplier companies who have come to Toledo to see the property.

Cleanup continues at the Jeep Parkway site. The Port Authority bought the 111-acre tract from Chrysler in 2010 and has set a goal of finding a developer to start construction at the site in July or August. Cleanup continues at the Jeep Parkway site. The Port Authority bought the 111-acre tract from Chrysler in 2010 and has set a goal of finding a developer to start construction at the site in July or August.
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That concerns United Auto Worker Local 12 president Bruce Baumhower, who sees the potential to attract several hundred auto supplier jobs to Toledo. He says the clock is ticking. "The timing is so critical. The time is now," Mr. Baumhower said. "Chrysler has given the contracts out to suppliers and they're looking for places to start building prototypes now."

Developers are hesitant to build without tenants. But tenants are hesitant to sign on without a seeing a building. And because of the generally short length of parts contracts, suppliers usually prefer leasing space and are unlikely to front the money it would take to build an industrial facility.

Because of that, the project needs to find a developer willing to pour in some funding. Mr. Sapara said the Port Authority is open to either a master developer who would take on the whole project, or issuing debt to split the costs -- and eventually revenues -- with a developer.

Mr. Sapara said the port would begin to officially contact developers to gauge interest this week, with a goal of starting construction on the first building in July or August.

However, were a developer to call and say it had an ironclad deal in place, construction could start at any time.

Mr. Baumhower praised the work done by the city of Toledo and the Port Authority to get the site to where it is today. But he believes a better job could be done in identifying and promoting the type of opportunity that exists for developers and for the community.

"I think that's what we need to do to escalate this initiative," Mr. Baumhower said. "Start to market it, start to discuss it. I think it's a good time for everybody to kind of circle the wagons -- the chamber of commerce, the city, the county, the economic development people -- and say this should be our community's No. 1 initiative."

According to Chrysler manufacturing data, the plant produced 269,131 vehicles last year -- 165,157 on the Wrangler line and 103,974 on the Jeep Liberty/Dodge Nitro line at Toledo North. With the $500 million investment Chrysler is pouring into the Toledo Assembly Complex, that number is sure to go up. In an air pollution permit application filed with the state last year, the automaker said it could boost Toledo North production to 327,000 a year. Adding in the Wrangler production, which is up again this year, the plant could have capacity nearing 500,000 vehicles a year.

Mr. Baumhower sees potential for 800 to 1,000 supplier jobs if Chrysler is producing more than 450,000 vehicles a year.

"It seems like it needs a communitywide effort right now to make that happen," he said. "We need the investment community to step up and take interest in this [and] we need the economic development community to make it clear to suppliers that we have this coming from them and explain the great opportunity suppliers have to locate that close to the facility."

Jeep Parkway's promoters say a supplier base there also would directly benefit the Chrysler plant, reducing worry of far-flung supply-chain breakdowns, saving on fuel costs for deliveries, and helping the plant more quickly address any quality problems.

It's unlikely Chrysler itself would invest in Jeep Parkway, and Port Authority officials say they have not had any direct conversations with Chrysler company officials about the project.

Mr. Baumhower has spoken with Chrysler officials as he tries to gauge their interest.

"They think it makes all kinds of sense," he said. "They haven't gone so far as to tell suppliers they need to do this, and I'm not so sure we're asking them to do that."

No one with Chrysler who could speak about the company's thoughts on Jeep Parkway could be reached for comment Friday.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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