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Possible buyer eyes GM site as intermodal shipping site for rail, trucking

JANESVILLE

The 240 acres of the former General Motors plant site in Janesville could be sold in its entirety to a single company that bid on it last month in a private sealed auction, insiders say.

Alex Welton, a broker for international firm the Future of Real Estate, which orchestrated the auction for current site owner Commercial Development Company, confirmed an unnamed prospective buyer is not yet under contract to buy the property, but they've entered a due-diligence phase for the massive, vacant property on Janesville’s south side.

Welton said that as a contractor to Commercial Development, he has not seen all the details of the pending sale. But he said he believes the prospective buyer is eyeing the site for potential redevelopment as an intermodal shipping center—a site that would transfer goods shipped by both train and semitrailer truck.

“That’s something similar to what part of the GM site was run as. Sort of like an intermodal yard, a trans-shipment type of use where they’d have large lot spaces for trucks, the big 18-wheeler type trucks with the big (intermodal) containers that go on trucks and trains,” Welton said.

Adjacent to the former GM site is an outsize, multitrack rail spur that ties into Wisconsin & Southern Railroad and Union Pacific lines. Brokers and local economic development officials have long pointed to that rail infrastructure as a major selling point for redevelopment of the former auto plant.

Although the prospective buyer has not yet been publicly identified, Welton indicated the sale would include both main parcels of the former auto assembly plant: the 114-acre main plant side along Jackson Street and Delavan Drive, and the 112-acre, former JATCO haul-away yard to the south.

Word that the whole property could soon sell comes a few weeks after St. Louis-based Commercial Development capped an auction for the property. The Future of Real Estate went public with the top bids for both major chunks of property, which came in at a combined total just over $2.1 million.

It’s not clear what price the parcels could ultimately sell for, and Welton said he wasn’t in a position to give financial information on the sale.

During an appearance on WCLO radio this week, Gale Price, the city’s economic development director, said he has been told officials for Commercial Development and the site’s prospective buyer could meet with the city sometime prior to the wrap-up of the seller’s 90-day due-diligence period to discuss future “conditional uses” at the site.

Janesville city officials did not immediately respond to Gazette inquiries for further details on the pending sale.

City of Janesville officials in recent weeks have expressed concern that Commercial Development aims to relinquish ownership of the former GM site while half of it still awaits a determination by the state Department of Natural Resources on post-industrial soil and water contamination there.

The DNR likely won’t issue a final decision until spring 2022 on whether it will grant environmental clearance to the 114-acre, main GM plant site.

The bulk of the main plant site is still covered with concrete slabs—remnants of the the former plant—after Commercial Development cleared the entire 2 million square feet of the GM factory buildings.

Cleanup plans Commercial Development filed with the DNR indicate the company seeks to leave much of the factory’s slabs in place as a cap for environmental contamination and as a possible reusable base for future industrial development.

The city of Janesville, citing its property demolition rules, told Commercial Development in two letters that the company is required to remove concrete slabs and cap off the property. The DNR, however, might not require the owners to remove the concrete ground cover.

City officials have said they’ve been trying to learn what possible ongoing environmental liabilities might fall to a new buyer and what responsibilities could remain with Commercial Development or revert to GM, the original owner that ran manufacturing operations on the grounds for almost 100 years.

The prospective buyer would be the second party to own the property since GM sold the defunct factory and its surrounding properties to Commercial Development for $9.6 million in late 2017.

In a large-scale, complex property sale like this one, Welton said it’s not uncommon for a buyer and seller to negotiate several months before they agree to terms and galvanize a contract for sale.

But he said his general sense is that the prospective buyer would like to launch redevelopment of at least part of the property soon after buying it.

The would-be buyers are “more than capable of rejuvenating that land that’s been just sitting there vacant for so long,” Welton said. “They have plans for it. They’re not a buy-and-hold type operation. They’re not just going to buy and sit on it.”


Janesville’s Parker’s Alyssa Ayers drives towards the hoop while defended by Madison West’s Brooklyn Fleming during the first half of their game at Parker High School on Thursday, Dec. 2.


Education
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Local Janesville robotics teams prepare for multiple competitions this weekend

JANESVILLE

Two Janesville robotics teams made of elementary school students will compete this weekend at regional competitions for the First Lego League.

Local schools, including Van Buren Elementary and St. William Catholic School, have gone to state and regional competitions several times over the past eight years for Lego League.

Bob Getka, district coordinator for all of Janesville School District’s Lego/robotics clubs and programs that entire time, aims to get some of his kids to the finals again.

“Every year they have a different theme, so this year’s theme happens to be all about moving cargo,” Getka said while the St. William team practiced at the school with their Lego robots.

Getka is mentoring the St. William team—The Cruisin’ Robotics—with coaches Jim and Judy Speece and parents Holly Francis and Erin Vingers, whose sons are on the team. Jim Speece is a retired engineer with a lot of knowledge to share with the students.

“If you look over there,” Getka said, pointing, “you can see trains, and there’s cargo over there on a boat. They’re trying to do that right now. There’s an airplane they have to unload cargo with.”

On Saturday The Cruisin’ Robotics will compete at the Oak Creek Regional, while on Sunday, Van Buren’s Robotic Eagles will take part in a virtual First Lego League regional.

Many other local teams will compete, including Franklin Middle School’s Benjamin Builders, Marshall Middle School’s Cardybots, Edison Middle School’s Eagles, Monroe Elementary School’s Mighty Mustangs, Kennedy Elementary School’s Rockets, Roosevelt Elementary School’s Roobots, Madison Elementary School’s 1st Madison FLL, St. Paul School’s Robotics, Harrison Elementary School’s Harrison Hawks Bot Squ@d and Jackson Elementary School’s Tiger Tech.

Anthony Wahl 

Members of St. William School’s First Lego League team watch their robot perform a task while practicing with it after school Tuesday. Left to Right—Liam Bills, Reece Ratzlaff, Patrick Francis, Noah Jelinek, Alex Bills and Beau Vingers.

St. Williams Catholic School

The Lego League is specifically for students in grades four through eight. In high school, students in robotics can go on to build 120-pound robots that play on a large field. The robots used in the First Lego League are much smaller and made out of Lego.

At past competitions, teams have gathered in large gymnasiums. Projects are judged after the teams spend the afternoon getting their creations to complete assigned “missions.” The students “run” their robots on a mat to see which can best complete each mission in three, two-and-a-half-minute attempts.

“The closer missions are usually worth fewer (points),” Getka said. “Further missions are usually worth a little more. This one right here,” he said, pointing to one robot, “is supposed to bring a package onto a doorstep.”

St. William’s all-boys Cruisin’ Robotics team includes Lambeau “Beau” Vingers, Jack Sheridan, Noah Jelinek, Alex Bills, Liam Bills, Reece Ratzlaff and Patrick Francis.

At the end of the competition Saturday, the team will be judged based on the success of their project, their robot’s computer code, its attachment, the actual robot and the team’s core values.

Vingers said the team is guided by a few core values.

“There’s discovery,” he said. “We use that pretty much every day when we find errors in our programming, and then we fix those.”

He continued: “Teamwork makes the dream work. Right now, two people are programming and one’s attaching everything. Then there’s inclusion. We involve everybody in everything we do. Voting, et cetera. We all design our team shirts.”

Anthony Wahl 

Members of St. William School’s First Lego League team line up their robot for a specific task while practicing after school for an upcoming regional Lego robotics competition. Due to the pandemic, this weekend’s regional competition is being held virtually.

Van Buren’s Robotic Eagles

Each member of the Van Buren Robotic Eagles had to earn a place on the competition team. Coaches Becky Carter and Kyleigh Pope held the tryouts.

The team is comprised of fourth-graders, most of whom are girls: Farrah McNeil, Lacey Vaughn, Averie Long, Jayden Scheele, Abbey Bier, Hannah Johnson, Riley Mayfield and Aubrey Gregory.

The team, practicing for their competition Sunday, ran through their “cargo connect” presentation—transporting items and making deliveries.

The students manipulate their Lego robots using iPads. While the robots and software the team uses were new this year to coaches Pope and Carter, they said the students tackled every challenge well.

“A month ago they couldn’t figure out how to make the robot go forward. Now they score over 200 points. Talk about on-the-job learning.”

“They’re fourth-graders,” Carter said, “and they’re so well spoken. They’re so polite to each other and they help each other out. Just seeing them come together as a team and the confidence that they have together and individually is really fun to watch as a coach.”


Obituaries and death notices for Dec. 3, 2021

Arthur C. “Art” Boehning

Debra Bea Bowers

Douglas G. Bixby

James A. Buckley

Patricia “Pat” Churchill

Janet L. Collins

Phillip J. “Phil” Danto

Dean A. Emerson

Hurvey W. Haskins

Brittany Michele Jacobson

Colleen M. Kunkel

Lemoine K. Meyer

Timothy Miller

Mildred Lucille Reitz

Dorothy Ann “Dottie” Reitzel

Eleanor B. Smith

Sonja K. Spoden

Cynthia Y. “Cindy” Williams

Daniel Stewart Wyss


Local
Wes Davis won't seek re-election in spring 2022 election, but 'not calling it quits' politically

Wes Davis, vice chairperson on the Rock County Board of Supervisors, is pumping the brakes on his political career at least for now.

According to a press release issued by the Rock County Clerk’s Office on Wednesday, Davis filed paperwork declaring he will not run in the 2022 spring election.

Davis represents District 22, which includes newly adopted municipal wards in town of Harmony, Wards 1 and 2, and city of Janesville, Wards 19 and 20.

In a phone interview with The Gazette, Davis said his decision was mainly driven by a desire to spend more time with family.

“I’ve been on the board for just about eight years, and it’s very demanding,” he said.

The Janesville native and former Rock County educator was first elected to the board in 2014. He has a long history as a public servant, with 50 years under his belt teaching students at both grade school and higher education levels in both Beloit and Janesville.

In the eight years since being elected to the board and serving as a vice chair the past two, Davis worked on nearly a dozen committees in the county, including the county board staff, planning and development; finance;and county board staffing committees. In addition to working in several different capacities in the county, he has spent the last couple of years on the ad hoc redistricting and broadband committees.

Davis was a champion for issues surrounding agriculture and farmers’ rights. Some of the causes he elevated involved eminent domain threats from outside corporations attempting to impede on farmlands, water conservation and potability concerns, as well as limitations on high-capacity wells.

As representative on the Agriculture Environment and Land Use Committee for six years, Davis worked with the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association and formed a groundwater quality group. In those roles, he helped address problems such as harmful levels of nitrates present in soil deposits and voiced concerns over lead getting into rural water mains.

During his tenure on the board, Davis enjoyed the opportunity to “get things done” and work with the people.

“I’ve made some new friends, renewed older acquaintances,” he said, adding that three of his former students currently sit on the board. “They don’t always vote the way I do,” he joked, “but I’m confident they are hard workers and they’ll participate and make meaningful contributions.”

As for his fellow board members, Davis enjoyed an ideologically balanced workplace.

“It’s politically diverse,” he said of the board’s political makeup. “And yes, they get things done.”

He added: “I like to work with a body that’s successful and they have been successful—more so than our state Legislature and Legislature in Congress.”

At 75, Davis is not completely calling it quits and has not ruled out running again in the future.

“At my age I should be slowing down, (but) I’m not slowing down—I’ve got good health yet,” he said. For the time being, however, his goal is to take his time mulling over any future aspirations. “I’m ready for a break—a retirement—for at least a short period of time.”

This decision comes at the beginning of a period where current board members give notice of their reelection intentions. The deadline for incumbents to file noncandidacy paperwork is 5 p.m. Dec. 24. Those interested in running for the county board have until 5 p.m. Jan. 4 to turn in candidate paperwork and signatures for ballot placement. Candidates are required to submit a minimum of 50 signatures but no more than 100.

Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson can be contacted at 608-757-5660 for more information about running for county board supervisor.


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