by Steve Dwyer
A New Castle County, DE redevelopment appears to have established a solid game plan, a plan that will serve as a strong tailwind to executing a beneficial end use outcome.
The site is the former General Motors Boxwood assembly plant. As many well know, former GM plants represent a yeoman’s challenge in striking prudent redevelopment. In short, there are so many intricate tentacles that comprise such sites. Enter RACER Trust, a federal entity formed to finance former GM cleanups and then facilitate the appropriate sale—matching right owner with right seller. RACER was established by a federal judge in the aftermath of GM’s bankruptcy, and is predicated on its laser vision.
As with other former GM sites under RACER’s aegis, the eventual property buyer must be aligned with what the local community needs.
This game plan involves more than RACER’s oversight. The 3.2 million square-foot GM property in Delaware has the necessary components to execute a successful redevelopment. There’s public involvement via public hearings, environmental vigilance with the state’s environmental agency and a nod to historical preservation since one goal is to salvage legacy assets of this site. There’s also a prime transportation-logistical benefits since the property sits in the shadow of the I-95 corridor.
Thomas Hanna, president of Harvey Hanna & Associates, which has experience with brownfield sites, witnessed through the Twin Spans complex in New Castle, said nearly 100 configurations for the 3.2 million square foot site have been developed. Options include keeping most of the massive complex in place to partial or total demolition. None of the plans include residential development as the site is zoned industrial.
As mentioned earlier, there’s vigilance being carried out via prudent environmental oversight by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). As of early December, a waste treatment plant on the site is slated to remain in place in the hopes that the site can attract a sizable manufacturer—although manufacturing prospects are scarce in comparison to light assembly and distribution center candidates.
Space at the site is already being marketed online with negotiations underway with international commercial real estate firm CBRE. If no agreement is reached, Harvey Hanna would either look for another broker or take the project in-house.
No leases have yet been signed, with Hanna telling attendees at a recent public hearing that the first major tenant would set the tone for the overall development. The goal will be finding the “highest and best use” with employers that pay good wages.
From a timetable standpoint, there’s a 12- to 18-month window for ramping up to be tenant-ready, with build-out taking eight years. An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 jobs would be created, including construction positions.
This former GM site features great logistics from a transportation standpoint: The goal is to market the site on a regional or national basis for clients looking to capitalize on the proximity to the I-95 corridor.
Historical preservation is being realized as well, as plans are in the works to retain the property’s administrative building, which has art deco touches and dates back to the time when the DuPont family had a controlling interest in GM.
Environmental oversight comes with the DNREC representatives, who recently reported that four out of six zones at the Boxwood site have been studied for environmental problems, and have received the green light.
Groundwater and heavy metals contamination appear to be confined to the plant site, which borders residential property.
The checks and balances of prudent redevelopment are always carried out best with strong communication mechanisms. This GM site comes equipped with this across many channels. Public input is strong as audience members attending public hearings have asked all the right questions so that the stakeholders remain focused and prevail in a community-advocacy mode.
Here’s hoping that yet another former GM plant will show that past is prologue—most of the former GM plants up and running currently have been home runs in the way they have served the communities from social, economic and environmental positions.
Editor’s Note: BCONE was fortunate to hear from DNREC official, Paul W. Will, regarding the Delaware Coastal Zone perspective on the revitalization of old industrial sites for multiple reuse. Paul joined BCONE’s lunch panel held at the National Brownfield Conference in December 2017; Mr. Will, along with representatives from the PA Department of Community & Economic Development and Shell Chemicals, provided insights on exciting redevelopment potential and actual projects in 2 of the states in the BCONE footprint. BCONE members who attended the RE3 Conference in Philadelphia in November 2017 heard from Bruce Rasher of the RACER Trust, who discussed the Trust’s progress across the country. BCONE was an active participant on the RE3 developer panel selection committee. Just a few recent examples on how BCONE keeps you informed on fascinating projects and programs in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the USA and then continues the dialogue with informative articles by Steve Dwyer. Please share you projects, programs and article with BCONE!