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Published: Friday, 7/8/2011

Port authority offers vision for former Jeep site

Property's f lexibility called key

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A lone smokestack is all that remains of the former Jeep assembly plant that is being prepared for reuse as an industrial complex with rail and expressway access. A lone smokestack is all that remains of the former Jeep assembly plant that is being prepared for reuse as an industrial complex with rail and expressway access.
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Ground could be broken yet this year for the first building in a proposed 930,000 square-foot industrial complex on the former Jeep assembly plant site in central Toledo, which is now owned and being cleaned up by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

Paul Toth, the port authority's president, said the redevelopment layout unveiled during a news conference at the site Thursday is only a concept.

"Obviously, we don't know that this is exactly how this is going to lay out," he said, adding that the 111-acre property is attracting a lot of attention from developers and site-selection consultants.

"We believe that there's a lot of opportunity and interest in developing on this site," said Mr. Toth.

He described the former Jeep factory as "a signature piece of property for northwest Ohio" because of its visibility and "a dream from a logistics standpoint."

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell called the property's clean-up, begun this spring by the port authority, "a true example of how we're starting to come together and work together toward the same causes."

Mr. Toth branded the former Jeep site the Overland Industrial Park in honor of the Jeep corporate ancestor named on an old smokestack left standing when Chrysler Corp. tore down the rest of its buildings four years ago.

The site has a large role in Toledo's history and "is something that can once again be great," the mayor said.

Mr. Toth said the property is riddled with building foundations that must be removed to promote its redevelopment, along with "some hot spots in the area."

But a contractor has finished the $340,000 cleanup of trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent on part of the site, and the port authority has $5.8 million in state and federal grants to continue clearing pollution and underground debris from other parts.

Some of the foundations are 5-feet thick, the port president said, but that concrete will be crushed and reused as aggregate for new construction.

Because of its close frontage on Jeep Parkway and paucity of underground problems, the site's northeastern corner is most likely to be buildable first, with construction of a first building "ideally" beginning during the fourth quarter of 2011, Mr. Toth said.

"This is a site that is basically shovel-ready," Mayor Bell said.

The redevelopment plan created for the port authority by Toledo Regional Architects, Contractors, and Engineers, a consortium of 24 design firms that donated its work, has the same basic layout as a concept that the port authority's directors discussed in February.

A main difference is that industrial buildings are generally larger and linked together. No construction plans or financing were announced.

Also, the site's southwest corner is left clear for expansion of State Paper & Metal, a Central Avenue recycling firm that is expected to use between 10 and 15 acres to expand its operations.

Five large buildings in the plan range in size between 126,000 square feet and 200,000 square feet, while two smaller buildings of 24,000 and 30,000 square feet are sandwiched between three of the big structures. All are shown with railroad spurs connecting to a Norfolk Southern main line running along the property's eastern edge.

The earlier version showed four 150,000 square-foot buildings and two 50,000 square-foot structures.

Mr. Toth said no building dimensions are definite, because "as much flexibility as possible" is vital to make the project attractive.

The port authority bought the property from a Chrysler liquidation company for $95,000 in October, three years after the automaker, which had moved its Jeep operations to the Toledo North Assembly complex on Stickney Avenue, finished razing its Jeep Parkway buildings.

In addition to the grants for site clean-up, officials Thursday announced a $15,000 state subsidy toward an "environmental insurance" premium the port authority will buy through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's program to cover potential liabilities not covered by its Voluntary Action Plan covenants.

An additional 38 acres along the Ottawa River where employee parking lots were during factory operations are unsuitable for building because they're in the river's flood plain. They are designated in the redevelopment plan as parkland, with native vegetation, trails, shelters, and interpretive signs detailing the site's history.

A solar farm is proposed for a former trailer lot on the north side of Berdan Avenue, and Mr. Toth said the port authority would also like to erect several wind turbines on the site.

Road access would be developed by extending Willys Parkway to a traffic circle or roundabout from which roads would extend north to Berdan and south to Central Avenue. The site's eastern boundary is a Norfolk Southern railroad line along which Mr. Toth said Canadian National also has access.

The State Paper & Metal expansion is expected to create 22 jobs.

Mr. Toth said the balance of the site could be ideal for automotive-related manufacturing or warehouse and distribution businesses, with the port authority pursuing manufacturers as its preferred candidates.

"It's ready for development if and when Chrysler makes a decision to expand operations in northwest Ohio," he said.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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