Dec 16, 2013

City officials hope to turn lemons into lemonade at the idled GM plant

Excerpted from Janesville Gazette
By Marcia Nelesen

Assistant City Manager Jay Winzenz isn’t prone to bouts of excitement.

But he slapped his hand on the conference table to emphasize a map outlining a proposal to move the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds to the site of the shuttered GM plant.

John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville, is not one for drama.

But excitement crept into his voice, too, when Beckord listed—not once, but twice—the five redevelopment advantages of the 200-acre GM site.

The GM plant site has been in limbo for five years, languishing in standby status imposed by a nation labor contract between GM and the United Auto Workers that expires in 2015.

Now is the time to start talking with General Motors about the future of the company’s shuttered Janesville facility, said Jay Winzenz, assistant city manager.

The workforce is mostly gone. Workers transferred to other plants or took other jobs, he said.

Winzenz said he has talked to people who have indicated the UAW and General Motors might be willing to talk about disposition of the plant before 2015, when the national contract expires.

Winzenz is betting GM will sell or otherwise shed the property, leaving the city with an opportunity.


The city’s comprehensive plan labels the area as industrial but makes it clear it could easily accommodate different uses.

“We have 200 acres … more or less in the middle of the city that is a blank slate, or could be a blank slate,” Winzenz said.

The property has important amenities that industries want, Winzenz and Beckord said.

Winzenz recently met with GM officials, who gave him and others a tour of the plant.

“I’m very optimistic, at this point, between now and the end of 2015 we’ll be able to work with General Motors, and the plan will be in place for disposal of the facility when the contract expires in 2015,” Winzenz said.

Beckord, too, said it is highly probable the site would be available for redevelopment after the national contract between GM and the UAW expires.

“That said, stranger things have happened, so one can’t count on that,” Beckord said.

“It’s also prudent to begin the process of envisioning what might be possible with that asset,” he said.

Beckord noted the site’s amenities, which would attract certain kinds of industries, including food processors.

He said there’s enough room for both the fairgrounds and industry.

Any effort would mean private and public partnerships, including the city, county and a redevelopment entity with experience in large-scale reuse.

Winzenz said now is the time to begin a community discussion on what it would like to create on its blank slate.

“How many opportunities do you have to redevelop either 100 or 200 acres in the middle of your community?” Winzenz asked.

“I think it’s a process we need to start.”

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