City purchases land near Jeep plant in hopes of keeping WranglerWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
With a unanimous vote approving the purchase of 28.8 acres of land near Jeep’s Toledo Assembly Complex, Toledo City Council hopes it dealt city leaders another round at the table with Chrysler and a fighting chance to keep Wrangler production in Toledo.
Council voted 12-0 during its Dec. 2 meeting to buy the former Textile leather property for $738,000.
Local officials have been in talks with the auto company about Wrangler’s future in Toledo since Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s surprise comments during an interview at the Paris Auto Show in October that Wranglers may move from Toledo if the model switched to an aluminum unibody design.
Toledo’s plant is set up for steel body-on-frame production. Shutting the plant down for six months to retool for aluminum would be too costly, as the plant already can’t keep up with demand for Wranglers even working nearly around the clock, UAW Local 12 President Bruce Baumhower told Council during an agenda review session Nov. 25. That session was attended by more than 100 Jeep workers wearing red “Solidarity on Stickney” shirts.
“This whole problem we’re facing has been caused by their phenomenal success,” he said. “They can’t shut that plant down for one minute.
“Yes, there’s some risk in saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to buy this land and we don’t have a commitment from Chrysler.’ But you’ve got to weigh that against if we don’t do this, it’s game over. It’s gone,” Baumhower said. “Now what we’re saying is, ‘Let’s give him something to think about.’”
Discussions so far have been about replacing Wrangler with another Chrysler model, Baumhower said.
“There’s been no conversation about keeping Wrangler in Toledo because there was no scenario where it would work — until today,” he said after the vote. “This puts us back in the game and allows us to have some future dialogue with the corporation about keeping Wrangler here in Toledo.”
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins praised the decision.
“It matters where you make it and we make it better here than anywhere on this planet,” Collins said.
The next step is closing on the property, which the city anticipates by mid-December, said Matt Sapara, the city’s director of business and economic development.
The cost of environmental remediation at the site, expected to start early next year, has been estimated at $1.2 million. A carcinogen, PCB, had been found in the soil and the Ohio and U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies are both involved in cleanup plans, he said. The site’s current owner, Textileather, will provide $1.75 million to cover the job.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge for us, but I think we put ourselves in the best position we could possibly be in by acquiring the land and giving Chrysler more options and more flexibility,” Sapara said. “It shows Chrysler we have a really united front from Council to the mayor to our elected officials. It’s really a team effort to put together something that will get their attention and I think we’re there.”
Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson declined to comment.
The Textileather site along with the 4.1-acre former MedCorp property the city acquired in October plus a few other smaller parcels would bring the city’s total acreage in the area to 70, Sapara said.
The city has talked with Chrysler as well as several other potential end-users, he said.
“Obviously Chrysler is our No. 1 and the end-user we’re hoping for, but my goal is to get the biggest economic impact for the community out of the disposition of that property, whoever that end-user happens to be,” he said.
A new meeting date with Chrysler has not been set, Sapara said, but the city is hoping to meet before the end of the year.
Councilman Tom Waniewski, who was critical of Council’s 7-5 vote last month to purchase the former Southwyck Mall site, said he was in support of the Textileather purchase.
“With Jeep, we have a viable tenant already there that has been looking for more room, so it’s not like we have no players there,” Waniewski said. “The Southwyck property — once The Andersons dropped out of that, I thought, ‘We’re gonna end up holding the bag again.’
“We have to be at the table to play with Chrysler. By not passing this land deal, we would have in essence taken our cards and said we’re done for the night. But with this land purchase at least we’re still at the table, we’re still playing with them … and hopefully convince them that’s still the best place to continue to build Wrangler.”
It wouldn’t only be Jeep workers if Wrangler left. Parts suppliers and Toledo’s economy in general could suffer or would be impacted, Baumhower said.
Frank Rao of Toledo, who works in the stock department on Toledo’s Jeep Cherokee line, came out to the rally last week to support his co-workers on the Wrangler line.
“I think it’s important we all stick together as one voice,” Rao said. “Cherokee and Wrangler, we’re all one big family. It would be a hit to everyone if we lost the Wrangler.”