171006_GM01

The former General Motors plant in Janesville, as photographed from a drone. Production at the plant stopped in 2008. City officials said they learned Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, that GM finalized a deal with a St. Louis company, Commercial Development Company, to buy the site.

JANESVILLE

Wednesday’s announcement that the defunct General Motors plant had been sold comes nearly nine years to the day after the last SUV rolled off the plant’s assembly lines on Dec. 23, 2008.

A few hours after he’d heard about the finalized sale of the 4.8-million-square-foot plant and its 300-acre property, City Manager Mark Freitag told The Gazette he believed the news came at the right time.

“I think it’s kind of neat that the announcement of something this significant to the community is happening right at Christmas,” he said. “What a great Christmas gift for the community. We’ve got some closure, and we’re set to move forward as a community.”

Freitag said a GM official called him shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday to announce the sale had closed. Commercial Development Company of St. Louis is the presumed buyer, he said.

The sale is not a surprise because Commercial Development, an industrial site redevelopment firm, announced in September that it had a contract to buy the GM plant and property.

GM and Commercial Development plan to hold a press conference at noon today in Janesville to give more details on the sale, Freitag said.

However, Wednesday’s announcement is a clear statement that the sale is final.

“We do have an answer that the deal is closed. All signatures are in,” Freitag said.

Both GM and Commercial Development indicated in early September that they would be working through a closing process that would roll out over about 75 days. That put a targeted date of Dec. 15 on the sale, Freitag said earlier.

GM did not offer more details Wednesday, including any information on the sale price, Freitag said.

The Gazette was not immediately able to reach a GM spokeswoman or Commercial Development official for comment.

Commercial Development confirmed the sale in a news release late Wednesday afternoon, saying that it “will assume responsibility for legacy environmental liabilities associated with the site” and that it plans to invest “significant resources to reposition the large industrial property” for new use.

As of late last week, Freitag said neither GM nor Commercial Development had given any sign that they had reached a deal. On Wednesday, a GM official called Freitag and said representatives of the two companies planned to travel to Janesville to hold a “press announcement” at noon today.

The press conference will be held in city council chambers at City Hall. Freitag said City Hall was chosen because it has ample seating capacity and space for officials and media.

Freitag said representatives of both companies plan to speak.

Commercial Development has told the city that it intends to clean up the GM facility, starting with asbestos removal inside the buildings.

According to earlier Gazette reports, Commercial Development told city officials it will then market the property for industrial tenants or buyers. If there is no interest from buyers, the company will tear down some or all of the plant buildings, possibly as early as 2018.

In its release Wednesday, Commercial Development wrote that its “preliminary activity” at the GM site could include “environmental remediation, demolition of some or all facilities, and extensive redevelopment planning.”

“Our team understands the historical significance behind this project, and we are pleased to lead the redevelopment process. We are very impressed with Janesville’s pro-growth leadership and look forward to working with them, as well as Rock County and the state of Wisconsin to help create new growth opportunities,” CEO Randall Jostes said in the release.

In the release, Commercial Development said it was interested in the property partly because the Janesville area has a “strong local workforce,” access to major highways and proximity to universities, among other attributes.

The property encompasses 300 acres, including the former Janesville Area Transport Company, or JATCO, site to the south. The JATCO site has been cleared by the state Department of Natural Resources through an environmental review.

Commercial Development has experience with renovation and reuse projects that have brought new tenants to defunct industrial plants. In some cases, the company has completely leveled post-industrial sites and sold them to other buyers for redevelopment.

A few former GM plant properties in Ohio and Pennsylvania have been transformed for other uses. Some of those projects have taken several years to roll out, according to municipal officials in those communities.

Commercial Development operates a sister company that it says takes on environmental liabilities, including cleanup, of the sites it buys. The company said earlier that its sister company would be involved in redevelopment of the Janesville site.

In September, when Commercial Development announced it had a contract on the GM property, it delivered a presentation to Janesville and Rock County officials. In the presentation, Commercial Development said it considered the site a potentially attractively location for future suppliers and support industries for electronics giant Foxconn.

Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics company, plans to build a massive manufacturing complex in the Kenosha area.

City officials have said Foxconn representatives toured the former GM plant in Janesville, although it’s not clear why Foxconn was interested in looking at the site.

The GM site has access to major rail and electrical infrastructure.

After The Gazette broke news of the GM site’s sale Wednesday, some local residents sounded off in comments on the newspaper’s website.

One of those residents, Lora Marsh of Milton, wrote:

“My dad and two of my three brothers worked there. Sad that it closed, but praying for this sale to bring new jobs to Janesville and a renewal of the area. … God bless this venture for all concerned.”

Freitag said he and other city officials join residents in wanting to learn more about the sale.

“Frankly, I’ll look forward to hearing how this came to fruition,” Freitag said.

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