By Neil Johnson - Aug 19, 2022
Commercial Development Company, the owner of the 250-acre former General Motors site, plans to speak in public for the first time in years about its plans to redevelop at least part of the giant, sleeping industrial property.
St. Louis brownfield redevelopment firm Commercial Development plans an open house alongside local architects Angus Young Associates and RH Batterman on Wednesday, Aug. 31, to lay out what it calls “preliminary” plans and a timeline for an intermodal freight shipping development that could come to the southern half of the vacant property.
Commercial Development has owned the 115-acre main GM plant site, along with the 127-acre JATCO vehicle haul-away yard just to the south, since 2018, when the company took ownership of the defunct former auto plant site, which had been GM’s oldest.
Commercial Development has mostly cleared of millions of square feet of factory buildings from the property. But much of the post-industrial land there remains covered with concrete and is subject to environmental remediation plans from the state Department of Natural Resources.
After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, Commercial Development in tandem waited to hear whether the DNR would sign off on the owner’s cleanup of the massive property and has remained publicly silent over its intended next steps.
Now, Commercial Development officials said in an announcement Friday the company seeks to unveil some details about how it might redevelop the JATCO site. The Aug. 31 public junket will be at Rock County’s human services and job center at 1717 Center Ave., just across a strip of woods from the former GM and JATCO sites.
The JATCO site has been cleared for redevelopment since 2020. Both parcels—the main plant site and JATCO—are adjacent to massive rail infrastructure that two private railroad companies have said they would beef up even more to accommodate redevelopment for light industry or an intermodal transportation hub.
Stephen Collins, an executive vice president at Commercial Development Company, said the open house is to give updates on redevelopment of the JATCO site as a “rail intermodal center,” a plan he calls “consistent” with earlier plans to revitalize and redevelop the whole 250 acre site as a business park.
The two local architectural and engineering firms, Angus Young Associates and RH Batterman, will join Commercial Development company officials at the open house to show preliminary plans they’ve worked up on contract for the potential redevelopment of JATCO.
It’s not clear how long the potential development has been in the works, and Commercial Development on Friday gave no specific details about what type of intermodal operations might come to the site.
Along with the local consultants, an official from a global intermodal consultant, JAG Transport, will be at the open house. Commercial Development Company did not provide more details about JAG’s involvement in the open house, and a Gazette reporter was unable to reach a company spokesperson on Friday afternoon.
Commercial Development’s announcement Friday did not include details about the main GM plant site to the north of JATCO.
The DNR in June officially closed its environmental review of the main plant site, leaving it with ongoing remediation orders. The orders include a requirement that Commercial Development to either leave dozens of acres of concrete “cap” in place over designated contamination on-site or to seek further remediation measures if the cap would be disturbed during any future development or other activities on site.
Local economic development officials have said over the last two years that the JATCO site, which saw far less heavy industrial use than the main GM plant site, would likely be the first of the two main properties to see redevelopment.
The announcement was a surprise because until Friday, Commercial Development’s plans for the site have been largely a mystery. Prior to this summer, city of Janesville officials for months had said they had heard no word from Commercial Development on what it intends to do with either the JATCO site or the main GM plant site.
In fact, the city earlier this year was levying fines to Commercial Development for what it said was the company’s failure to fully clean up remaining concrete from the site or to pay property taxes and city utility bills.
The city and Commercial Development had hosted a set of private talks earlier this summer over future developments at the JATCO site, one city economic development official indicated.
It’s not clear if the city has changed its stance on the apparent ongoing inactivity at the former GM site, but under the property demolition and cleanup rules, the city requires property owners to remove old concrete from the ground and cover the site with soil fill and plantings.
In addition to the lack of observable progress at the site, there had been little in the way of real estate transactions. In late 2021, a local contractor bought from Commercial Development an ancillary property that is on the east side of the main plant site. That site is now used for storage, but it is just a sliver of the overall 250 acres.
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