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Toledo area reinventing itself, one factory at a time

Less than a month ago, the city of Toledo formally took title to a parcel of land at 1110 Hastings Ave. — the final piece in its long-sought acquisition of the former Champion Spark Plug plant on Upton Avenue.

The Champion property has been vacant and undeveloped for more than 20 years.

The acquisition, however, now gives the city full control of the 16-acre site from Nebraska Avenue to Dorr Street, and allows the property’s prime assets, industrial zoning, good roads, and rail, to be marketed to users.

But the Champion site is going to have competition.

Last month the 373,278-square-foot Teledyne plant at 1500 W. Laskey Rd. closed for good and its owner, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, struck a tentative deal to sell the 30-acre plant and an adjacent 40-acre property on Coining Drive to Industrial Realty Group LLC, of Los Angeles. IRG would redevelop the Teledyne site and find a new tenant or tenants for it.

Decades ago Toledo earned the reputation as a significant manufacturing hub in the Midwest.

Manufacturing still is the largest contributor to the local economy, but many well-known names and factories that helped build that reputation — Champion, Teledyne, Textileather, DeVilbiss Manufacturing, Toledo Scale, Haughton Elevator — are long gone.

Slowly but surely, though, older factory sites are being reclaimed and redeveloped as the city renews itself.

“We recycle beverage cans. Why can’t we recycle industrial sites?” said Bob Mack, an industrial real estate specialist with the Toledo office of commercial real estate firm Signature Associates.

Brandon Sehlhorst, the city’s commissioner of economic development, said some might prefer to see greenspace sites, like the location in Rossford where the new Amazon warehouse was built, as the best place to put a manufacturer or a logistics center.

But Mr. Sehlhorst is among those who want to rebuild Toledo from the inside out and take old locations and make them viable again.

“This is such a beautiful story for our community that we’ve been able to reposition some of these properties. It’s been difficult, it takes a lot of time, but what we’re working on today impacts what happens five to 10 years from now,” Mr. Sehlhorst said.

Brownfield sites like the Champion Spark Plug factory can be challenging but also quite appealing to certain users. “It all goes back to why those locations were there in the first place,” Mr. Sehlhorst said.

Take the old Jeep plant on Jeep Parkway near I-75.

The plant was demolished and redeveloped by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority with developer NAI Harmon Group.

The site is now home to the bustling 80-acre Overland Industrial Park which counts Dana Inc., Detroit Manufacturing Systems, Faurecia Automobile Co., and Axiom Group Inc. among its tenants who employ hundreds of workers.

Mr. Mack said when cars pass the former Jeep site, “you couldn’t get a better example of repurposing environmentally sensitive property.

“Yet it’s prominent. You couldn’t get a better site. Everything you see there is very easy on the eyes,” said Mr. Mack, who is a Perrysburg Township trustee. “I think it sets a good example for other parts of Toledo and other cities to say, ‘How do you want to present your city to the public?’ With (Overland) they have showcased the city very favorably.”

Overland has rail access and is right along I-75.

“Other places don’t have those real estate fundamentals. That’s what makes that site still attractive today,” Mr. Sehlhorst said. “That’s why we are now re-positioning Champion Spark Plug and the former North Towne Square Mall site as new industrial sites,” he said.

“They may look different than they once did — Champion’s not a factory anymore,” Mr. Sehlhorst said. “But I do think that the Norfolk Southern rail line there could attract a user that wants that specific amenity and to be close to a workforce,” he added.

The Textileather Corp. site is another example of taking a traditional Toledo name that is now gone and giving the location a redevelopment makeover.

The long-time Toledo manufacturer of fabric for car interiors closed its doors permanently in 2009, but the city bought the 3729 Twining St. site in 2014 and began a massive cleanup of its contamination. It also bought the adjacent MedCorp. Property.

Together the two sites were sold to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, now called Stellantis, which is building an auto customizing facility on the site.

Mr. Sehlhorst said that because it takes so long to redevelop and reposition properties with old factory sites, many of which have functionally obsolete buildings, the city mostly has gone after “low-hanging fruit” in its redevelopment efforts.

“It takes time to prepare the site and get them to the point where we can market them for development.

Some people think it’s taken us longer than we would have like for this process,” he said.

And unfortunately, Toledo has a large surplus of old, obsolete industrial sites.

“We have many functionally obsolete buildings that the owners have just walked away from because of environmental contamination. It’s up to the city and the land bank to take these on,” Mr. Sehlhorst said.

“We are having to adapt but we are getting a lot better at repositioning real estate to attract new entities and at getting funds for demolition and remediation. But it’s difficult. There’s just such a large inventory and we don’t have the ability to do a lot immediately, so we have to be strategic,” he added.

Mr. Mack said anything the city or port authority can do to increase the inventory of industrial sites is helpful.

“The city has a finite number of industrial land in its inventory. If they can transform dysfunctional sites back into potentially functional sites again and add them to their inventory, I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

The Teledyne building isn’t perfect, but it is a functional property that could be useful to some users, Mr. Mack said. “There’s a lot of companies that wish it had 30-foot ceilings throughout, but it doesn’t. But there’s also a lot of companies that don’t need 30-foot ceilings,” he said.

Joe Cappel, the port authority’s vice president for development, said that industrial users know that other amenities can be more desirable than a building, which can easily be demolished.

“I think a lot of these plants have come to the end of their useful lives. Developers may not want to do the same thing there that the previous user did, but the utilities are still there, the great location is still there, access to the highway is there,” Mr. Cappel said.

“You combine all those things with the assistance of different agencies who are really coming together and have a lot of tools in their toolbox — JobsOhio, the city, the port, the RGP — and we’re all able to help those projects move along,” he added.

Toledo “is still an automotive-related town, but you have to change with the times and reinvent yourself at times,” Mr. Cappel said. “Automation has changed from what it was, but that presents an opportunity for new businesses.

“As some jobs and processes become obsolete there are other new jobs and new crafts that can take the place of them,” the port vice president said.

“There are changes happening, but sometimes it’s hard to recognize those changes over time if you’re living here and projects never happen as quickly as you’d like them to,” Mr. Cappel said.

“But if you keep looking around, all of a sudden you may not recognize Toledo. You’ll see multiple renditions of development taking place and changing the face of the city. I think it is exciting,” he said.


Posted By: Toledo Blade on May 9, 2021.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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