As the new owner of the former General Motors plant continues the mammoth job of tearing down the massive complex on Janesville’s south side, ideas are starting to emerge on the site’s prospects for redevelopment.
Janesville architectural firm Angus-Young Associates and two other local architectural and surveying firms have begun work on preliminary plans that would flesh out how parts of the 250-acre GM site might be split up as redevelopment parcels.
Joe Stadelman, president of Angus-Young, said Commercial Development, the St. Louis company that bought the site, hired his firm recently. Angus-Young earlier this month began designs on “at least three plans” for redevelopment of the former GM plant site and of the auto haul-away yard just to the south known as the JATCO site.
Stadelman said Angus-Young and the two firms it’s partnering with—Beloit surveying firm R.H. Batterman and Madison-based environmental architect Ayres Associates—would be ready to submit to the city initial plans for the site’s redevelopment by “late summer.”
The city would have to approve redevelopment plans before final site plans could be drawn, according to city rules for an “overlay district” that blankets the GM site.
Stadelman said the idea is to create at least three redevelopment alternatives, each with a distinct layout. Jacob Blue, an architect with Ayres, described the concept as a “flexible” set of redevelopment plans.
“We want to be more proactive about being ready to respond to the market for whatever a redevelopment proposal might be. We’ll probably have a concept with small lots, another with medium lots and another with large lots,” Stadelman said. “We want to be really ready to take on any kind of proposal request.”
Blue said it might be a “foregone conclusion” that much of the redevelopment could be geared toward industrial use, which would fit the current zoning of most of the property, but Stadelman said the plans could include commercial development as well as offices and smaller service industries. He said plans might not rule out part of the GM site—possibly the southern end of the JATCO site—being earmarked for rezoning for residential development.
Much of the GM site is adjacent to large rail spurs that serve the site at multiple points, which city officials and Commercial Development have said they consider a major selling point for redevelopment.
“I see a large opportunity in this being a railroad site. It’s probably the most important asset that this site offers,” Stadelman said. “We’re working with Union Pacific to really market this as a rail site because we see that as a place where we can really stand out in the market.”
Stadelman said that pending city approval of redevelopment plans, it’s likely the first focus could be the former JATCO site. It has heavy rail access, he said, and it’s almost totally clear of buildings.
Angus-Young and the two other firms hosted an open house Wednesday afternoon at the Rock County Job Center to seek opinions of local residents, including people who live near the site, on what they might like to see happen once Commercial Development finishes clearing the site.
A handful of residents visited the open house, and they were asked to fill out a survey that asked, among other things, what concerns they had about redevelopment and whether certain types of development would have a “positive” or “negative” effect on the community.
One visitor, former GM plant maintenance worker Jim Otto, said he’d like to see midsize, high tech industry, such as medical equipment production, built on the site.
Otto and Janesville resident Leon Freeburg, who said he’s a history buff, both said they could picture a car-centric museum, such as a GM “legacy center” one group proposed earlier this year, being located on the GM site.
One resident asked how she could get a brick from the GM plant. Architects at the open house said they aren’t working on demolition of the GM plant and haven’t discussed what’s to be done with demolition material.
Commercial Development has said that once demolition progresses through to the front of the plant, probably late this year, it would make bricks available.
Joan Tiffany, who lives close enough to the GM site to hear the clanging of demolition, went to the open house to learn more about plans for the site.
“The main thing I hope is that when they (Commercial Development) get all the demolition done, they don’t leave the whole place a big chunk of empty land,” Tiffany said.
Tiffany said she’d like to see someone develop a grocery store at or near the site, but she sees it as “obvious” that redevelopment would focus on the major rail spurs that feed into the site.
“It’ll be some kind of companies that need good rail accessibility,” she said. “Just so it’s not a chemical plant that’s got lots of smells all the time.”
The city of Janesville will have a degree of oversight to any plan submitted by commercial development through Angus-Young’s pending work.
Prior to the GM’s sale of the site to Commercial Development, the city designated the GM property and JATCO site as an “overlay district.”
The designation means that any redevelopment or adaptive reuse would have to meet rules for the overlay district, and preliminary and final plans for redevelopment would need to be approved by the city’s plan commission following public hearings.
Under the city’s rules, the plan commission is given the power to authorize changes to zoning or establish separate requirements necessary to approve a redevelopment proposal for the overlay district.
Commercial Development or another owner wouldn’t be allowed to redevelop parts of the GM site for “intense” industrial uses such as fertilizer production, foundries, smelting operations or junkyards.