Mayor: Grant will prepare Fenton auto plant for new use

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 | 5:27 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — Federal officials will announce $1.5 million in funding to get Fenton's former Chrysler plant complex marketed and ready for a new use, Mayor Dennis Hancock said Wednesday.

He said the grant, to be announced Thursday, was pursued by the city of Fenton, St. Louis County and state of Missouri. It will also pay for identifying any potential environmental hazards at the 295-acre industrial site.

Edward Montgomery, President Barack Obama's appointee to help communities deal with the aftermath of the auto downsizing, and David Kerr, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, are expected to make the official announcement at 1 p.m. Thursday in Fenton.

Chrysler's north and south plants in Fenton once employed thousands of autoworkers. The St. Louis County town and region took a big financial hit when the plants were shuttered in 2008 and 2009. The Chrysler plants, along with parts makers and affiliated companies, were the single largest tax entity for the Rockwood School District and Fenton Fire Protection District, and the second-largest tax-producing entity for the county, Hancock said.

The plants' closure left a $1 million, or 15 percent, hole in Fenton's 2009 operating budget.

"It's been a long time since we've had good news about the site," Hancock said.

With frontage on Interstate 44 and proximity to I-270, the property could generate jobs, and sales and property tax for the region if it was developed for use in retail, restaurant and entertainment, light assembly, distribution, warehousing or heavy industrial uses, the mayor said.

"We have one opportunity to redevelop the site, in my lifetime," he said. "When I look at the site, I see a blank slate."

The property, with access to rail yards, includes the north and south plant buildings, an easement, parking, wastewater treatment plant and engine plant.

The Fenton property is among several closed and unwanted Chrysler plants that are being liquidated as the company finalizes its bankruptcy.

Daniel Hayes, principal with commercial real estate broker NAI DESCO, said Wednesday that potential users, developers and redevelopers from the St. Louis area, the U.S. and other countries have inquired and/or toured one or both of the plants.

He said there is no asking price or deadline for bids, other than a desire to have them come "sooner rather than later."

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