A DNREC brownfield development agreement meeting turned into a Harvey Hanna love fest Thursday night as company president Thomas J. Hanna fielded questions about what he’s going to do with the former GM plant his company bought.
By the end of the meeting, several residents thanked Hanna for cleaning up the site and erecting a fence. One said he trusted Hanna more than he trusted state officials. One said he was “jumping for joy” when he heard the company bought the site. Another took the microphone to ask Hanna for a job.
Hanna introduced himself by saying both his parents grew up in the Newport-Richardson Park area and his father, uncle and grandfather all worked at the GM plant. “There’s a personal connection here between this project and our company,” he said.
Harvey Hanna’s limited liability company Boxwood Industrial Park LLC bought the 142-acre former auto plant from Wanxiang America on October 25. The purchase price for more than 3 million square feet of manufacturing space was recorded as $10. Boxwood is currently advertising at least one of the Class B existing warehouses on the site for lease.
Hanna said the company is negotiating with CBRE to handle leasing for the site, but, if the negotiations fall through, they will invite another real estate company or handle the leasing in house.
Hanna said the company hopes to install solar on the many roofs of the building. “We have 3 million square feet of space. That’s a lot of rooftop, and we think our properties are ripe for solar,” he said. “Solar, to us, is the logical piece of renewable energy at this property.”
He said the company is drawing up plans to restore the art deco touches in the crescent-shaped GM administration building. After the restoration, the company plans to move its offices to the second floor.
Although chemicals from A to W (acetylene to waste solvents) have been identified at the site, the four largest sections have already been remediated, and other areas are slated to be cleaned up to protect construction workers and neighboring communities. The remediation is being paid for with $11.7 million of federal funds earmarked for Boxwood under the Revitalizing Auto Communities Response Trust. No state money has been spent at this point. A spokesperson for the trust said more money would be made available if it is needed to mitigate contamination.
Hanna said his company has dealt with brownfields before because their niche is redeveloping obsolete properties. “100 percent of what we do has a reuse element to it,” he said. “We find a way to bring those properties into productive reuse.”
He predicted the site could eventually provide 2,000 to 3,000 new jobs, including construction work. He showed photos of his company’s Twin Spans Business Park in New Castle, the former Chicago Bridge and Iron site and another brownfield development. He said national and regional tenants created about 1,000 jobs in the fully leased park.
The GM plant, built in 1946, turned out 1,200 vehicles a day at its peak, but it was shuttered in 2009. Harvey Hanna hopes to reuse the property with rail access and easy access to 141 and I-95.
Hanna said the company is hoping for manufacturing tenants for the property zoned heavy industrial, but it will consider assembly plants, warehouse and distribution companies or retail. He estimated there are potentially 20 warehouse tenants for every heavy manufacturer looking for space in the U.S. They have no signed leases currently, he said.
Hanna said the company has drawn plans to raze buildings and plans to save buildings, and what plays out will depend on the market. “I wish we could show you a picture of what exactly the new world for the property might look like. We’re not there yet. The intended use is still somewhat unknown.”
He said it might be up to eight years before a manufacturing tenant could be on site.
When several residents asked about water and sewer problems on the site, Hanna told the crowd, “We kind of treat them like camp sites. We leave them in better shape than when we found them.”
Hanna said he would like to hear from former workers who have ideas or information. “There is so much institutional knowledge still around in this zip code, and we’re trying to tap into as much of that as we can,” he said.