By Neil Johnson Nov. 10, 2021

As bids are set to close Thursday on a fire sale auction of both major pieces of the 250-acre former General Motors plant in Janesville, property records show the property’s St. Louis-based owners already have quietly closed on the sale of a small sliver of the massive site.

State Department of Revenue real estate transfer records show that Commercial Development Company on Nov. 2 sold off a key-shaped, 5-acre outlot that once housed GM’s wastewater plant. According to state records, the site at 1210 S. Academy St. sold for $170,000 to Center Construction of Evansville.

That transaction is dwarfed by the pending auction a private broker is facilitating for both the 115-acre former GM plant site and the former JATCO haul-away yard just south. The two sites are cleared of all buildings, but heavy concrete and pavement spans almost the entire empty gulf of property.
The two big parcels initially were marked for sale earlier this year at an opening, minimum bid of $750,000 apiece, with bidding to end today.
Commercial Development has not responded to a Gazette reporter’s inquiries about the pending property sales. Some city of Janesville officials recently expressed concerns that the auction was rolling out even as Commercial Development apparently has failed this year to pay property taxes and utility fees for the site.
It has prompted two city officials to publicly ask whether Commercial Development intends to “cut and run” on its remaining obligations on the century-old site. The owner still has as much as 100 acres of concrete slab on the ground that the city is asking be removed or capped and covered. The state Department of Natural Resources still hasn’t officially cleared the northern main plant site of environmental liabilities, officials said.
The thin, 1-acre-wide former wastewater plant parcel is one of a handful of smaller outlots that are part of the property but aren’t attached to the main GM plant parcels.
The parcel, which Commercial Development has cleared of buildings as it has on the main plant site, extends along South Academy Street to Delavan Drive. It is separated from the main plant site by a small, residential subdivision to the east and an easement for a large set of railroad spurs.

On Wednesday, the former wastewater site appeared as though it is now being used for storage. An owner for Center Construction—which lists itself as a general construction, excavation and snow removal contractor—did not immediately respond to a Gazette inquiry about plans for the parcel.
Gale Price, Janesville’s economic development director, said he learned sale of the wastewater plant was being handled separate from the larger auction because Commercial Development had an accepted offer on the wastewater site before the larger auction got underway.
Price predicted some reuse prospects for the former GM site, particularly initially, might roll out similarly—with smaller-scale reuse prospects.
“In my mind’s eye, a big piece of the why that one arrived at an offer outside or ahead of the auction is because it’s a much smaller piece,” Price said. “It’s manageable in the sense that adaptive reuse plans for 5 acres is (different from) adaptive reuse plans on 100 acres right next door.”
On Wednesday, Price echoed sentiments made last week by City Manager Mark Freitag that the city suspects Commercial Development aims to unload the property and move on. It’s not clear what the company will do about the $300,000 in unpaid property taxes and utility bills it owes on the former GM site.
Price said those unpaid bills could be part of a bigger problem: That the 115-acre northern plant site might not be in a state that would spur redevelopment interest without some potentially sizeable upfront costs.

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