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.”