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A sign advertising an auction of the former General Motors factory property on Delavan Drive in Janesville is posted on a fence around the property in September. A broker involved in the auction said bidding was initially slated to close last week, but Commercial Development decided to keep the auction rolling another week.

JANESVILLE

It’s not yet clear whether parts of the mammoth former General Motors plant property will sell through a private auction that initially was slated to end last week. But a broker involved said the property’s owner decided to extend the auction another week.

This week, bids remained open for both major parcels of the 240-acre property in a monthslong auction that owner Commercial Development Company began orchestrating mid-summer.

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An online advertisement shows a broker has extended an auction of the former GM site parcels in Janesville for another week beyond the sale’s initial sunset date.

The Future of Real Estate, the international firm that is hosting the auction, shows on its website that bidding for the former auto plant parcels at the end of last week had reached $1.14 million for the 114-acre, main GM plant site. That is the property’s northern half—the now vacant expanse of concrete slabs that once housed the more than two-million-square-foot GM auto plant.

Bids closed out last week at $1.03 million for the other main parcel, the 112-acre former JATCO haul-away yard to the south of the main plant property.

So far those bids, along with a $375,000 bid for an ancillary lot east of the main plant, add up to $2.5 million. That’s far less than the $9 million Commercial Development paid GM for the defunct property when the company bought it in 2017, vowing to level and clear the site and ready the rail-heavy parcels for future industrial redevelopment.

Alex Welton, a broker with The Future of Real Estate who is managing the sale, said the auctions for each of the three parcels had drawn a “handful” of bids as of last week.

He said Commercial Development decided to roll the auction out another week in a final lightning round for bids.

“Commercial Development had the choice of moving to what we call a ‘best and final’ round. It’s just basically extended a week, and that gives everyone else a chance to come back and polish their bids if they want to meet or beat whatever the highest bid amount was,” Welton said.

It could be weeks before Commercial Development reveals whether it has sold either of the main properties. Local observers—particularly officials at the city of Janesville—are following the outcome closely.

Some city officials say they’re concerned Commercial Development wants to unload the property after leveling the former plant buildings and scrapping out and selling off tons of structural metal and thousands of pieces of factory equipment at the northern, 114-acre main plant site, which is the one main parcel in the property that remains under an active brownfield cleanup plan.

So far, no major industrial reuse projects for the main plant site have emerged publicly, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has yet to formally close the book on its environmental review of the northern main plant parcel.

Commercial Development has asked the State Department, the site’s main regulatory authority, for a “letter of closure”—a designation which would signal the DNR has closed the books on environmental review of the site provided the site’s owners adhere to agreements such as how the owner must cap possible ground contamination from GM’s 100 years of plant operations.

Gale Price, the city of Janesville’s economic development director, said he is worried that piles of leftover rubble and dozens of acres of concrete slabs still in the ground on the property’s northern half might turn off some prospective buyers who wouldn’t see that part of property as being ready for redevelopment.

The city of Janesville has no direct role in the sale, but Price said that as the auction moves to a close, his office has fielded a raft of inquiries about the properties’ vital statistics and its environmental status.

City officials say the DNR has indicated it could reach a decision on Commercial Development’s request sometime early in 2022.

Welton said his firm does not publicly divulge information about prospective buyers and it doesn’t publicly identify bidders mid-auction. He described the process as “sealed,” with information on bids shared between the seller and the broker.

He declined to say whether he has seen any new bids this week that would raise the ante on the ongoing auction of the site.

Welton said he considers the auction a more complex process compared to the sale of farmland or certified, shovel-ready properties.

Welton said his goal is to help Commercial Development land a buyer or buyers that might have immediate plans to redevelop the property. That, he suggested, is preferable to a buyer who would land big parts of the property with plans to hold the land inactive.

In any case, Welton said, any buyer might have to spend weeks working through a closing process which could include further negotiations over “contingencies,” which could include the challenge of the ongoing environmental review on one of the big parcels.

Ultimately, he said, it is Commercial Development’s call on whether to go through with the sale of some or all the old auto plant site based on the auction’s outcome.

He characterized the company as a “motivated” seller.

He said Commercial Development’s choice to extend the auction a week “doesn’t mean they (Commercial Development) aren’t going to go with anything that’s already on the table.”

“The sellers are just hoping that they can possibly get the bidders to come up from where they are currently,” Welton said. “Obviously, the whole idea behind an auction is to bump up the numbers as high as you can.”

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