GM plant planned in Balto. Co.

Truck transmissions would be built near White Marsh Mall

Former quarry site

Broening Highway workers likely to be employed

May 20, 1999|By JAY APPERSON | JAY APPERSON,SUN STAFF

General Motors Corp. has selected a depleted gravel quarry near Interstate 95 in White Marsh as the site of a new $250 million transmission manufacturing plant, government and real estate sources said yesterday.

An announcement of Baltimore County's biggest economic development coup since credit card giant MBNA moved its regional operations to the county two years ago was expected to come from state and county officials today.

Economic incentives, which have not been disclosed, were offered to land the project, government sources said.

Work on the plant, which would produce automatic transmissions for GM pickup trucks, could begin as early as summer.

Company officials have said the plant would probably employ workers from GM's Broening Highway van assembly plant in Baltimore rather than hire new ones.

The Broening Highway plant, which has 3,100 employees, could close after next year. GM's planned Allison Transmission plant, though it would create no jobs in the Baltimore region, could ensure that nearly 500 autoworkers remain employed in the area.

At least one United Auto Workers union official speculated that the decision to employ a significant portion of the Broening Highway plant's work force might be evidence of the company's plans for the southeast Baltimore plant.

"Does this mean [GM will] close the plant?" asked Charles R. Alfred, president of UAW Local 239, which represents the 2,500 hourly workers at Broening Highway.

The availability of those experienced workers, along with the 65-acre White Marsh site's easy access to Interstate 95 and the relatively low development costs for the former Genstar quarry, sold GM on the site, a real estate source said.

"The beautiful part about this is that the property is completely graded and cleared, with utilities, so that GM could break ground this summer," the source said. "That was why it was so attractive to GM. Plus, it's in proximity to labor."

The company looked at sites in the South and Midwest over the past couple of years, according to the source. GM said this year that the Baltimore region was the leading contender for the plant.

James P. Lighthizer, vice president of CB Richard Ellis Commercial Real Estate, said his firm searched metropolitan Baltimore for a site that might allow the plant to eventually double in size.

The property is part of what was once a sand and gravel quarry covering about 2,000 acres. White Marsh Mall, office parks and large stores occupy other parts of the former quarry.

Harry T. Campbell Sons' Corp. began quarrying the land in the 1930s. In the 1960s, the company became part of Flintkote Co., which later became Genstar. Genstar ceased operations on the site in 1993 and closed its concrete plant there in 1996.

An interchange between Philadelphia Road and White Marsh Boulevard was completed that year, allowing easier access to Interstate 95. Genstar, becoming more involved in land development as its quarries became exhausted, asked that the land be rezoned to permit retail development.

County officials limited the zoning change to a 22-acre section that is now the site of a CarMax used-car outlet. They hoped that the rest of the property could be used to create higher-paying industrial jobs.

The 400,000-square-foot GM plant could generate significant property tax revenues, depending on the economic incentives the county is providing. GM pays about $705,000 a year in property taxes to Baltimore, Doug Brown, an official in the city's finance office, said yesterday.

In February, a corporation controlled by Atlanta-based Jacoby Development Inc. purchased about 200 acres of the Genstar site for $2.65 million, state tax records show. GM, through the real estate broker, approached Jacoby about the site, said Jim Jacoby, chairman of the company.

Jacoby said his company has agreed to sell part of the land to GM and will develop the rest of the property for industrial use and perhaps a hotel.

Jacoby, whose company is developing a Lowe's store at a Genstar quarry site in Cockeysville, said of the White Marsh project, "It's nice to be able to say we took a piece of property and brought it back into use."

GM has said that the new plant is necessary to meet demand for GM's 1000 series Allison automatic transmissions, which are sold to manufacturers of full-size pickup trucks. Allison Transmission, a GM subsidiary, has about 4,000 employees at its main plant in Indianapolis, which company officials have said is nearing its limit for expansion.

A spokeswoman for Allison Transmission declined to talk about the selection of the White Marsh site yesterday. Spokeswoman Pat Trice said only, "We will be represented."

After GM announced in January its intention to build the transmission plant in the Baltimore area, an Allison Transmission official signaled that local and state economic development incentives might help the company decide.

Jacqueline Lampell, spokeswoman for the state Department of Business and Economic Development, said yesterday, "I can't give you any of the details of the negotiations with Allison." Lampell refused to confirm that GM had selected the White Marsh site.

Baltimore County officials said they had nothing to say about any deal.

Sun staff writers Ted Shelsby and Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 05/20/99

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