The trust responsible for selling or redeveloping former General Motors property left behind during General Motors' 2009 bankruptcy held an open house.
Formed to sell, redevelop or dispose of 89 GM sites, the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Responsibilities (RACER) Trust has only sold 17 properties over the last three years. Bruce Rasher, the trust's redevelopment manager, is seeking new uses for 66 buildings in 14 states, encompassing 7,000 acres of land and 44 million square feet under roofs.
The properties include the Willow Run plant, where today's event was held; Buick City in Flint, and the old Fisher Body plant in Lansing. Trust officials are discussing parts of Buick City with two "serious" prospective buyers, Rasher said.
The trust has fielded 240 leads in the first five months of 2012 after receiving 160 in the last nine months of 2011.
"The activity has increased, and the leads are more promising," Rasher said.
About 200 real estate brokers, political officials and economic development leaders gathered today for an event at the cavernous 5 million-square-foot former GM Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti Township, one of the largest contiguous buildings in the world.
Rasher said RACER has about two dozen strong leads that could lead to transactions in 2012.
But challenges remain -- and prospects for many of former GM properties are bleak.
Jay Williams, executive director of U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, said the RACER trust faces a marketing process that "can be incredibly difficult" because many of the old plants are dilapidated and outdated.
"While the automakers are moving in a positive direction after the restructuring, many communities in which they and their suppliers operated are still in distress," Williams said.
RACER must do more than simply sell the old plants and offices. In many cases there is significant environmental remediation work to be done that could take years.
The trust must follow several rules in determining the future of the old GM sites, including a requirement that it must consider the desires of local community leaders and economic developers. The trust will seek a competitive price for each property with an eye toward the job and tax implications of any sales.
Rasher described that criteria as a challenge and an opportunity.
"Unlike other corporate sellers, in addition to talking about purchase price, we also require that the purchaser explain to us their plans for redevelopment," he said. "We take the wishes of the community into consideration ... which makes it a challenge that it is, but it's very exciting working together with our federal, state and local stakeholders."
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