Wabash makes headway with GDX Automotive site
By Linda Lipp | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
A chance meeting at a Stellar Communities event at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in 2016 may pay off for the city of Wabash in a plan to finally clean up and redevelop the old GDX Automotive site.
Mayor Scott Long and Keith Gillenwater, president and CEO of Grow Wabash County, spoke to a representative of Louisville-based Luckett & Farley Development Services, who inquired about possible Wabash projects. It took a long time for that conversation to lead to something more concrete, but the Wabash Board of Works and City Council now have both approved an agreement with Luckett and Farley to come in and spearhead the Wabash brownfield project.
The city has budgeted about $500,000 to get the work underway next year, Long said.
The GDX property was used for manufacturing for a century and the city grew up around it. General Tire began using it in 1936, but it was also used before that, during World War I, to manufacture trucks, Gillenwater noted.
Manufacturing continued at the 30-acre site under several owners until 2007, when then-owner New York-based Cerberus Capital Management closed the GDX operation, costing hundreds of workers their jobs. “They shut it down and we’re left with the desolate 30-acre site in the middle of the city,” Long said.
An entity known as One General Street LLC, the site’s address, subsequently bought it at a commissioners tax sale, demolished buildings and removed any scrap metals it could sell. That was nearly nine years ago, “and we’ve been staring at the site since,” Long added.
One of Luckett & Farley’s first chores will be to identify the environmental issues and contaminants at the site and develop a plan to clean it up. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management tested the site previously, but that was before the buildings were torn down and new tests will have to be conducted, Gillenwater said.
One of the previous owners, Aerojet Rocketdyne, is on the hook to cover at least some of the costs of cleanup through its liability insurance, but some of those contaminants are under concrete. The company wants the city of Wabash to remove that and clean up the rubble, at a cost estimated at $2 million to $3 million, Long said.
“While the city of Wabash is pretty well off we’ve not got that kind of money available. I’d like to get someone else to pay for it, through general liability, which I think we can do,” he said.
One General Street still holds title to the property, and one of the partners in that entity actually offered to give it to the city awhile back, Long said. He turned the offer down. “At some point we’ll take possession but I don’t want to do that until the remediation plans are in place and we get the people responsible to agree to pay for it.”
The city and county, together, hold about $1 million in liens on the property for back taxes and nearly a decade’s worth of mowing and maintenance. One General Street has no assets to repay that, so the liens will be used to leverage the acquisition.
For a site like this, public ownership is the only way to jump start redevelopment, Gillenwater said. “No private entity is going to jump forward and purchase it, given the liabilities.”
Ultimately, the goal is to get the property cleaned to the highest standard possible so that it can be used to fill another critical need in Wabash — housing. An estimated 24 or 25 of the 30 acres could be used for high end, market-rate apartments and single family homes in the $160,000 to $250,000 range, based on needs identified in a city housing study, Long said.
“Housing is the biggest need in the community,” Gillenwater agreed.
Luckett & Farley Development Services is a division of a company founded in 1853 under the names Isaiah Rogers and Henry Whitestone. It is one of the oldest continuing architectural firms in the country. The firm’s work includes some of Louisville’s most famous landmarks, most notably Churchill Downs.
In 1962, the owners of the firm, Jean Farley and T.D. Luckett II, changed its name to Luckett & Farley Inc.; and in 1973, the firm changed to its current corporate name of Luckett & Farley Architects, Engineers and Construction Managers Inc. In 2000, an employee-owned stock ownership plan was implemented, giving every employee the opportunity to share in the ownership of the firm.