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Published: Sunday, 12/29/2013 - Updated: 7 months ago

Jeep dominates 2013 by boosting jobs, introducing Cherokee

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Chrysler said that its $500 million investment in Toledo would bring 1,500 new jobs. Once hiring ended, the total was more than 1,800. Chrysler said that its $500 million investment in Toledo would bring 1,500 new jobs. Once hiring ended, the total was more than 1,800.
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Going off the Chinese Zodiac calendar, 2013 is the year of the snake.

But like Indiana Jones, this author hates snakes. So we’re going to make a substitution and name 2013 the year of the Cherokee here in Toledo.

Jeep’s new Toledo-built sport utility vehicle dominated local and national automotive headlines all year long, from the first look in February to the first sales in October.

In spite of Chrysler Group LLC’s best efforts to keep the design hidden until its big unveiling at the New York International Auto Show in March, photos of the new Jeep inside Chrysler’s Toledo Assembly complex were leaked online in late February. Sensing a need for damage control — the blurry photos made a new design direction look all the more shocking — Chrysler followed up with official photos soon thereafter.

Chrysler got back on track with its launch in New York, where Jeep Chief Executive Officer Mike Manley told The Blade he expected the Cherokee to redefine its segment and become Jeep’s best-selling model worldwide. It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there, however. Several delays pushed back the vehicle’s release date. The Blade also broke news in September that Chrysler had idled one of its two Toledo production shifts for Cherokee because the vehicles still weren’t shipping over concerns about last-minute tweaks to the transmission.

Once the vehicle got out, reviews have been good. Sales finally started in late October and were strong in November.

But perhaps the best news for Toledo out of all that was the new jobs.

Chrysler had long said its $500 million investment in Toledo would bring about 1,100 new jobs. But by the time hiring was complete, Chrysler ended up adding more than 1,800 employees to the Toledo Assembly complex in 2013, bringing total plant employment to more than 4,000.

Jeep’s other Toledo-made product has already set a new sales record. Through November, Jeep sold 143,474 Wranglers. That was 2,000 more than the company sold all of last year.

It wasn’t all about Chrysler in auto industry news, though. Auto sales expanded their momentum from last year, with November being particularly strong. The month’s 16.3 million seasonally adjusted annual rate was the best in six years, with many local dealers getting a good share of those gains. General Motors Co. announced two separate investments for its Toledo Transmission (also known as Powertrain) plant totaling $86.3 million.

The U.S. Treasury also sold its last shares of GM, essentially closing the book on the bailout. Public debate over what was gained and what was lost won’t be closed so easily.

Back in northwestern Ohio, it was Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. that was selling. In June, the Findlay company announced it was being acquired by Apollo Tyres Ltd., one of India's largest tiremakers. Cooper’s shareholders approved the $2.5 billion all-cash deal, but trouble in China and contract concerns have led the two sides to court. The deal now looks to be in jeopardy, which could have significant ramifications for Cooper.

Cedar Fair LP, on the other hand, has been flying high. The Sandusky firm that owns Cedar Point has posted record revenues in each of the last two quarters and watched shares of its stock soar to their highest level ever.

Cedar Point got a new thrill ride for the 2013 season in GateKeeper, a $26 million winged coaster that got rave reviews. Work also started on renovations at the park’s hotel properties.

The year was also one for milestone anniversaries. Toledo glassware maker Libbey Inc. celebrated the 125th anniversary of its move to Toledo, fiber-glass maker Owens Corning celebrated 75 years, and the Appliance Center in Maumee celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Libbey has been a Toledo stalwart. The company traces its roots back to 1818 in Massachusetts.

Edward Drummond Libbey moved the company to Toledo in 1888, chasing after northwest Ohio’s natural gas and sand deposits, as well its rail and shipping ports. The company celebrated its anniversary by moving into its renovated downtown headquarters.

Other area companies also furthered commitments to saying in the region this year. La-Z-Boy Inc. finalized its purchase of 120 acres in Monroe for a new, $57 million world headquarters in January. Construction on the building, expected to open in late 2014 or early 2015, began in June.

Owens Corning committed to staying at its riverfront downtown Toledo headquarters until at least 2030. The company’s lease expires in 2015, but in October the city approved a $7 million incentive package aimed at keeping the company downtown for another 15 years once that lease is up. The deal included a provision for OC to make annual payments of $363,355 in lieu of taxes to Toledo Public Schools for an eight-year total of $2.9 million. OC would get the land upon which the building sits, currently owned by the city, contingent upon staying at the location an additional 15 years.

The Fortune 500 company says it has about 950 employees downtown, as well as about 300 contractors who work out of the office.

Several big retail deals got done in 2013.

A Connecticut private equity firm, Starwood Capital Group, purchased Franklin Park Mall from Westfield Group as part of a seven-property, $1.67 billion deal. One shopping mall consultant told The Blade that Franklin Park was likely the “crown jewel” of the deal. Westfield, based in Australia, had owned the Toledo mall for 11 years.

There was also a changing of the guard at the Toledo area’s three big cinemas. Cinemark Holdings Inc. paid $240 million to purchase 32 theaters in 12 states from Rave Cinemas. The deal included the Franklin Park 16 theater in Toledo, Levis Commons 12 in Perrysburg, and Fallen Timbers 14+Xtreme in Maumee.

Another big sale was that of the Shops at Franklin Place, more commonly known as the Target shopping center, on Monroe Street in Sylvania Township. A local real estate investment trust, Devonshire REIT, spent $8.55 million for the 27.5-acre property, which is home to Target, Golf Galaxy, OfficeMax, and Shoe Carnival.

One vacant storefront has already been filled — Gabriel Brothers Inc. opened a discount clothing store in the former Media Play.

Crews work on the Secor Road side of the Hampton Inn, a hotel under construction on the site of the former cinemas. Crews work on the Secor Road side of the Hampton Inn, a hotel under construction on the site of the former cinemas.
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The group plans to build a 66,000 square-foot retail strip where the Franklin Park Cinemas used to be. Officials told The Blade they had letters of intent from three retailers to fill those spots once they’re complete.

Plans were also announced for a large recreational vehicle dealership in Rossford next to Bass Pro Shop. Camping World will spend about $6 million to develop an 11-acre site and build a 30,000-square-foot building that will include retail space and a large service area.

Other new retail sites moved forward this year from plans to brick and mortar. CVS Pharmacy returned to the area, Art Van Furniture opened its new superstore in Springfield Township, and the developers behind a big, $25 million project on Secor Road broke ground. The latter project will bring two hotels and more restaurant and retail space.

It’s not a done deal yet, but club-retailer Costco has proposed building a 154,300-square-foot store on 28 acres near the southeast corner of State Rt. 25 and Eckel Junction Road in Perrysburg.

If the store is built, it would be Costco’s second in the Toledo area.

Outside the auto industry, there wasn’t much big news out of the manufacturing sector in 2013, though Pro Tec Coating Co. in the Putnam County village of Leipsic finished a $400 million investment in its steel-processing plant that boosts annual capacity and created about 80 jobs.

While downtown Toledo hasn’t seen much action this year, several proposed projects could move Toledo’s Warehouse District forward in the coming year.

Toledo Mud Hens President Joe Napoli announced in August that the minor league ballclub was working with investors on a $10 million to $15 million project to restore and develop several empty buildings near Fifth Third Field. An expanded Swamp Shop, a rooftop patio, and a restaurant with a high-tech arcade are among the ideas being kicked around by the group.

With approval of $2 million in federal neighborhood stabilization money, plans to develop the Berdan Building warehouse into urban apartments appear to be in place.

The developers behind the project — the same men who developed the Standart Lofts — want to renovate the huge building just outside Fifth Third Field’s main gate into 115 apartments.

They said the next step for the $30 million project is securing building permits and zoning approval, a process that’s expected to take six to eight months.

A mysterious group of investors also purchased the Willis Day warehouse downtown earlier this year. The group’s plans for the property aren’t clear, though people involved in the Warehouse District are hopeful they are considering redeveloping the property.

There was, however, a sad note for downtown in 2013. The Spitzer Building, a 117-year-old landmark building, is now vacant.

Maintenance costs and falling occupancy forced the court-appointed receiver to close the building Dec. 1. The Lucas County Land Bank has been working to gain control of the 117-year-old structure.

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



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