When the old Jeep plant came down in 2007, locals fought to save one of the brick smokestacks as a monument to the thousands of Toledo autoworkers who built some 11 million vehicles there over nearly 100 years.
Now that Overland stack stands over what local economic development officials hope will become northwest Ohio’s premier industrial park. Road construction is progressing, and work on the first two buildings at the redeveloped site will begin soon.
“That stack over there is our past,” Toledo Mayor Mike Bell said Wednesday. “That construction over there is our future.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Overland smokestack dedicated to Jeep workers
Past and future were blended Wednesday as officials hosted many current and retired autoworkers to dedicate the site to those who worked there.
“Without you all doing what you did during many, many years, during the war years, even before the war years, we wouldn’t have the amount of jobs we have over on the other side of town,” said Paul Toth, president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. “So I want to thank you for the dedication you’ve done over your lifetime.”
Mr. Toth unveiled a bronze plaque that will be affixed to the smokestack. The plaque dedicates the land to those who worked there, building products that “enhanced the American way of life and defended freedom throughout the world.”
The factory operated as an auto plant from 1910 through 2006, building vehicles that included military Jeeps, Jeep Wranglers, and Jeep Cherokees.
The port acquired the 111-acre site in 2010 and has spent about $8.5 million since then to clean contaminants from the grounds, remove old concrete foundations, install utilities, and begin building roadways.
This spring, the Port announced a deal with industrial gas company Airgas Inc. that will bring a 40,000-square-foot facility to the Overland Industrial Park. The port also recently approved construction of a 100,000-square-foot “spec” building to be put up by Harmon Family Development Corp. No tenant has yet signed on to use the space. But Ed Harmon said Wednesday the project, expected to cost in the range of $10 million, is worth the risk.
“We know the return is here,” he said. “We will get a return on investment. We will get additional opportunities here. It’s ready to build, it’s ‘shovel ready’ and it’s taken a lot of effort to get there. This will be a great project.”
Mr. Harmon said he is 60 to 90 days away from beginning construction of the building. Construction of the Airgas facility is also expected to begin this fall.
Port officials said it is critical to the project to get those first buildings constructed.
“Nobody ever wants to be the first one in an industrial park,” Mr. Toth said. “Once you can break that ice, it really adds credibility.”
The Airgas facility is expected to employ about 25 people. But that’s only the beginning of what developers hope will become a hub of activity. Mr. Harmon said he envisions hundreds of jobs on the site five years from now. Port officials hope they’ll be able to fill the spec building before it’s finished.
“Once that’s built, our goal is to just keep going, either find a tenant that wants to build on the site, or keep building spec buildings so we can have something available when a customer comes to town,” Mr. Toth said.
Up to now, that has been a problem. Though there are plenty of empty industrial buildings in and around Toledo, many don’t meet the needs of the companies seeking space.
“The last three to five years we’ve tried to recruit [auto] suppliers, and they found something somewhere else that was already ready to move into,” said Bruce Baumhower, the president of United Auto Workers Local 12 and a speaker at Wednesday’s event.
Mr. Baumhower started his career at that Jeep site and remembered the camaraderie there. Now, he believes there’s huge potential to bring suppliers and jobs to the industrial park.
“This will be the first time we’ve had inventory that’s ready,” Mr. Baumhower said. “They don’t want brownfields. They want brand new, and this provides all that.”
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.