ONTARIO — The developer and Ontario City Council signed the development agreement Thursday for the former General Motors Stamping Plant.
That final bit of paperwork taken care of at last night’s council meeting, Brownfield Communities Development Company made its intentions clear in an energized Thursday press conference.
“You have our commitment that our goal is to take this one large facility that was designed as a single-purpose entity and use our skills to turn it so it can be a facility that meets the needs of businesses that will themselves grow and attract other businesses,” said Michael M. Adler, chairman and chief executive officer of the Adler Group. “Our goal is for you to see this location again be a thriving employment hub for your community. We take this responsibility very seriously, and we are committed to make it happen.”
BCDC is a joint venture of Adler Group Inc. and Hilco Real Estate. The company believes it can bring 1,100 jobs to the community over the next five years.
Adler said his friend Jeffrey Hecktman, chairman and chief executive officer of Hilco, called in March 2011 and asked if he wanted to work on something really exciting, “something that would change not only business but community?”
“I said I would be interested,” Adler said.
Adler said soon after he came to know RACER Trust — Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust — which controls the sale of 89 former GM plants in 14 states, the Brownfield Communities Development Company, a Miami company, was born.
Bruce Rasher, redevelopment manager for RACER Trust, took charge of finding a buyer for the local GM plant, after the facility was closed in June, 2010.
“I had no idea of what was born in the RACER Trust and the kind of values they had, but I did know that what we had engaged in was not just a real estate transaction but was the redevelopment, the creation of jobs was the highest priority,” Adler said. “That excited me. I have been a ground-up developer. I have built millions and millions of square feet in corporate parks that are three and four times the size of this (plant), some of which I own today and for the last 35 years thousands of people have come every day to work. But those were greenfields.
“The first one I did was in the Florida Everglades. We had to put in water and sewer and electric and we had to build lakes and we had to plan everything for a community that you needed, but it was a clean palate. In this endeavor, working with Jeffrey Hecktman, who has a lot of experience where existing plants had been, we teamed together to form the Brownfield Communities Development Company. And that was to create, not for the first time, but to re-envision what a community could be and there’s where the skills I have, matched with Jeffrey’s.
“We have the opportunity here to re-envision what was a thriving economic location to meet the needs today. This was a single-purpose entity. The modern corporate park will have multiple tenants.”
Hecktman said he has met Rasher, as well as numerous people in the community, and was impressed with the passion involved in the project.
“Really a lot of the accomplishment needs to go to a lot of you sitting out here. Without you, Michael (Adler) and I would have never done this deal,” Hecktman said. “You will be very important to us helping us to attract the right type of business partners to come into our project.
“As Michael mentioned, one step leads to two steps, leads to three. One business will lead to two, three, to four, to five and you’ll see a tremendous growth start to happen in this community.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown attended the gathering. He said the Ontario and Mansfield communities have waited for years for good news regarding the former GM site.
“Thanks to the hard work of both community and business leaders, more than 1,000 jobs will soon arrive in Richland County,” Brown said. “We offer a skilled and dedicated workforce that is ready to get back on the job. This is extremely welcome news for north central Ohio, and I look forward to watching the former GM plant transform into a site of economic activity once again.”
Rasher said the price of the deal will be released after the closing of the sale. The purchase price is currently part of a confidentiality agreement.
Elliott P. Laws, trustee of the RACER Trust, said the day will be remembered as a great day for the Ontario and Mansfield community, Richland County and Ohio. Guests met his announcement of the sale with applause.
“There is not a community in America that wouldn’t welcome this type of news. But I know it’s especially welcome here, where the impact of previous job losses and the hurt of unfulfilled promises is felt so deeply in so many families,” Laws said. “We look forward to the day when this facility once again will stand as an economic beacon for Ontario and the surrounding communities in Richland County.
“For the RACER Trust it’s an important achievement as we go about our job to cleanup and find buyers who will create jobs at former GM properties across the country. For BCDC it’s a wonderful development. They soon will take control of a top-notch economic facility and transform it into a center of economic growth.”
BCDC plans to demolish about half of the plant, according to one of the 17 points of the development agreement Ontario Council members negotiated with the developer’s attorneys.
Two tenants have been identified for the site. One would create 850 full-time jobs and the other, 280 full-time jobs. Those tenants have not been identified pending the closing of the sale.
GM broke ground here in 1955. Production began in 1956 and the plant was a powerful source of economic security in the community for nearly 55 years.
“I happened to know the people who sold the property for this plant, (the late) Albert and Florence Beer,” Ontario mayor Larry Collins said. “They were a great part of my life. One of the prerequisites was giving Albert a job here. At that time Ontario was not an incorporated village. They were later incorporated in 1958.
“From those early beginnings with GM, the village and surrounding counties began to flourish because of the jobs that came to town. At one point there were 4,000 employees.”
The community was badly shaken when the facility closed.
“This is a new day, a red-letter day,” Collins said. “And quite honestly some people didn’t believe this day would ever come today either. We are very excited beyond words that Brownfield Adler have come to town. It is a day of promise of jobs and lots of good things for north central Ohio.”