Developers propose massive 'energy park' with thousands of jobs at former GM Willow Run plant
File photo | AnnArbor.com
The developer's proposal marks the first publicly known offer for the 5 million-square-foot facility, which closed in December.
Trust officials have said they've fielded several offers for the facility, which sits on 335 acres of land, and that they plan to take their time to consider existing offers and seek new ones. They hope to finalize a deal by spring 2012.
But Elmer Roller, a Bloomfield Hills-based attorney for A.E. Equities Group Holdings, said the trust that's managing the former GM property should accelerate the consideration of A.E. Equities' offer.
The developer's offer was previously reported to be $9 million — but Roller said in an interview that the company had boosted its offer to "a little under $20 million."
"When we made the original offer, we had not been given access to the plant," he said. "We just had blueprints on paper. We had to try to figure out what was inside there. We did it without even knowing what was inside the plant. We have since had access to the plant, and there was more in there than we thought there was. So we almost doubled the offer."
Roller said the developers could pay cash and close the deal within 30 days. He said they expected to spend more than $250 million on renovations. They would tear down some walls and ceilings but preserve the physical footprint of the facility and any historic portions.
He said the developers expect that the energy park could employ 1,000 people at the beginning and up to 2,000 to 3,000 eventually.
"We have some large hedge funds out of New York who are providing the money for this investment," he said. "We could use all of the space."
The Willow Run property is controlled by the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response (RACER) Trust, which is managing 89 abandoned GM properties. The trust is charged with selling, repositioning and cleaning up all the sites.
Bruce Rasher, RACER's redevelopment manager, confirmed A.E. Equities' interest in acquiring the property.
The facility "has enormous potential for redevelopment and already has generated significant interest among several potential purchasers," Rasher said in an email.
"As required by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court settlement agreement that established the Trust, RACER will evaluate all responsible offers for the Willow Run facility based on six criteria, including sufficiency of the purchase price, job development potential, local and state views and reputation of the purchaser."
Roller said the developers had commitments for several different operations that would be housed at the facility:
—A battery manufacturing operation run by Chinese battery producer BYD, which spawned the auto company that is backed by billionaire investor Warren Buffett. BYD is a major producer of lithium-ion batteries but its electric vehicles have failed to hit the market in the U.S. despite the company's ambitious claims.
—A plant that could convert trash into electricity, nitrogen and "a form of basic crude." He said it would be run by a Fort Wayne, Ind.-based company called Nature's Fuel and could be used to supply power to the next-door Willow Run Airport.
"We think it's going to catch on throughout the nation," Roller said of Nature's Fuel's "patented process" for energy conversion. "We'd like to put it in there first."
—A agro-industrial food production operation in a nitrogen-rich environment that could harvest 11 types of fruits and vegetables annually.
—A "designer fish" farm that would be fed with algae that would also be grown on site.
—A solar panel assembly operation.
—Defense-related operations that would handle "classified" government projects.
It's unclear how firm the investment commitments are. Roller said that the waste-to-energy power plant could sell electricity to the Willow Run Airport. He also said the developers "would do several things to help" the Willow Run Airport get a new runway.
But Scott Wintner, a spokesman for the Wayne County Airport Authority, which runs the airport, said the authority was totally unaware of the developers' thinking.
"We would be willing to discuss potential synergies between any developer and the airport at any time," he said.
But, he added, "We have had no discussions with them about it nor have we identified any particular power needs out there that we’re shopping for someone to satisfy."
Among the factors the RACER Trust has to consider in its site marketing efforts is the economic impact of a sale.
The trust is communicating with municipal leaders, county officials and economic development groups to include their input in the site's repositioning.
"RACER fully shares the Willow Run community’s sense of urgency about creating new jobs and new economic opportunity at Willow Run as soon as possible," Rasher said. "We appreciate the continuing assistance of local officials and community leaders and are working diligently to make this property available for sale in the near future."