MASSENA For nearly a year, an empty slab has sat where hundreds of General Motors Powertrain employees used to work.
Theres little physical sign of redevelopment there, other than environmental remediation crews hauling away contaminated concrete and soils to prepare the parcel for the future. But behind the scenes, discussions with prospective buyers continue to gain momentum, according to officials from the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, the site owner.
If I wasnt talking to anybody, I would be very nervous, RACER Redevelopment Manager Bruce Rasher said. That would mean either A, Im not reaching the right people; or B, theres no market. Neither one of those is the case for Massena.
RACER is marketing the site to Canadian aerospace, defense and technology industries, and has been in discussions with potential buyers who have expressed interest. Mr. Rasher said there are 10 active leads for the Massena property. Four of those leads have emerged since January, while RACER is still in discussions with six others from last year.
If those discussions become serious, RACER enters into a confidentiality agreement with the prospective buyer. Mr. Rasher declined to provide how many confidentiality agreements RACER has entered since last spring, out of concerns it would reveal too much about prospective buyers.
RACER took over the Massena property and more than 100 other industrial sites in March 2011, Mr. Rasher said. Since then, it has sold off 19 properties in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana. Approximately half of those sales were already in the works before RACER came into being.
The Massena site is among the majority of remaining properties yet to be sold. The sites amenities its rail access, low-cost hydropower capability and proximity to Canadian businesses looking for an American presence continue to be selling points, Mr. Rasher said.
But geographic and economic obstacles also exist, he said. The 2008 economic downturn created an excess of shuttered factories and warehouses nationwide. Massenas plant was demolished last year after officials said it was too contaminated to remain standing.
Existing space generally is a more attractive option for companies looking to open or expand than new construction, he said.
Theres still a considerable amount of surplus industrial space available, he said. Our vacant industrial land is competing with existing space thats really cheap right now.
In addition, there is renewed interest in reusing vacant properties in the Ohio River region for automotive manufacturing. The Massena site is too far from that region to generate the same interest, he said.
Still, Mr. Rasher said, there are reasons for optimism. RACER generated 160 leads nationwide in the last nine months of 2011. It has generated 180 additional leads in the first six months of 2012.
Its been sustained since the beginning of the year. Its like someone flicked a switch on January 2nd, he said. Its clear were seeing the signs of upstream activity.
Environmental Protection Agency officials previously estimated the majority of cleanup at the Superfund site would be complete by 2016, and said portions of the parcel could be sold off before then. Mr. Rasher said the cleanup could be related to the pace of redevelopment at the Massena site.
Whether the market is hanging back until we complete the environmental activities, that could be the case, Mr. Rasher said. Its quite possible some of the developers interested in Massena are doing that very thing.