Thursday, June 12, 2008

244-acre Chrysler property for sale

Automaker's 57-year-old assembly plant off I-95 in Newark slated to close in late '09

For sale: Auto manufacturing facility, 3.4 million square feet on 244 acres, with rail access, near interstate. Details available to interested buyers.Chrysler LLC said Wednesday that its Newark assembly plant and property, slated to close in late 2009, will officially be put on the market this week.

Chrysler spokesman Ed Saenz did not disclose Chrysler's offering price for the facility, which has enough floor space to cover 33 average Wal-Mart stores. He said the name of the real estate firm listing the plant was available only to "interested buyers."

Delaware real estate agents said Chicago-based UGL Equis, a corporate real estate company, is handling the sale and has been interviewing local brokers in Delaware. A UGL Equis spokeswoman confirmed late Wednesday that Chrysler is a client but was unable to confirm whether the Newark assembly plant was among its listings.

The 57-year-old facility, where about 1,100 workers assemble the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen sport utility vehicles, is seen as a casualty of the shift by American consumers to more fuel-efficient models, even as the automaker prepares to make a more-efficient hybrid version at the plant this summer.

"The fact that we're offering the property for sale does not have an impact on operations," Saenz said. "We will operate the assembly plant through the plan, which is the end of next year."

Saenz said the parcel for sale includes the Mopar parts distribution center, which employs about 150 workers. The fate of that operation has not been disclosed by Chrysler.

Judy McKinney-Cherry, director of the Delaware Economic Development Office, said her organization is working with Chrysler on its deactivation plans for the Newark plant.

If the market cooperates, she said, she expects Chrysler to stick to its plan to finish out the 2009 model year. But if consumers continue to run away from SUVs like the Durango and spurn the pricier hybrid model, she said the plant could see "changes."

"The market dictates whether or not you're going to produce these vehicles," she said.

McKinney-Cherry said DEDO is trying to drum up interest in the site. Officials have reached out to renewable energy manufacturers, whose plans largely depend on the fate of tax credits in political limbo in Congress, and foreign automakers, who have shown little interest, McKinney-Cherry said.

She also said the site holds potential for contractors supporting the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, a U.S. Army facility that is being expanded through the U.S. government's military base realignment process.

"Our goal is to keep this site as high-value as possible," she said.

Local brokers said the Newark property is ideally located, but will be challenging to sell because of its long use as an industrial property. If Chrysler's broker is unable to land an automaker, they expect the property to be sold for mixed-use redevelopment.

"It's a fabulous piece of real estate. ... It's a 9-iron off I-95," said Leigh Johnstone, senior vice president of Grubb & Ellis Co. in Wilmington.

Johnstone and others speculate the buildings would be razed to make way for such things as housing, offices, distribution warehouses, retail development, hotels, restaurants and educational uses.

"I would think the University of Delaware would be a prime candidate for purchasing some of it," Johnstone said. "That would be my first call if I were the broker."

Pete Davisson, partner with Jackson Cross Partners in Wilmington, said he doubts anybody would buy it as an investment to hold.

"It will be a challenge to price appropriately," Johnstone said. "They have to figure out what the market will absorb."


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