General Motors has narrowed the field of potential buyers for its closed Baltimore assembly plant to three finalists, with plans to raze the cavernous factory and redevelop the 182-acre site as an industrial-office business park that could employ thousands.
Such a redevelopment could provide breathing room for Baltimore's port and related industries as development has steadily encroached on the old industrial waterfront. It could infuse jobs into a city that has endured a relentless erosion. As recently as 15 years ago, the city had about 90,000 more jobs than it does now.
Sources close to the pending deal confirmed that two of the final candidates are Duke Realty Corp., an industrial, office, retail and health care developer based in Indianapolis; and RREEF America, a pension fund adviser, in partnership with Baltimore-based Continental Realty.
"They're on track to get the best and final offers from three finalists sometime in the month of October, and hopefully by the middle of December will have a decision," said Aris Melissaratos.
Melissaratos, who is Maryland's secretary of business and economic development, said, "Each of the respondents has complied with our vision, the state and city's vision and the port's vision."
That vision entails demolishing the 3.2 million-square-foot auto plant and replacing it with distribution, warehouse and manufacturing buildings along with mid-rise offices to house port-related management companies and state transportation agencies, he said.
M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency, said local officials expect to see at least 3,000 jobs created.
"There's a lot of demand for this kind of space," Brodie said.
General Motors closed its 70-year-old Baltimore van plant in May. At the time, about 1,100 workers remained at a factory that had once employed more than 7,000. But with demand falling for the dated Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans - its only products since 1984 - output and the number of workers had been steadily shrinking
A spokesman for GM would say only that the number of proposals has been narrowed down from about a dozen but said he could not discuss proposals on the table or developers involved.
"I have not seen the proposals," said John McDonald, at GM in Detroit. "It is part of a confidential bidding process."
McDonald had said that the property drew more developer interest than any GM property put on the market recently. He said GM is on track to close on the sale by the end of the year.
A spokeswoman for RREEF had no comment. The president and chief executive of Continental could not be reached.
Continental has developed numerous shopping centers and multifamily communities in the area as well as developing, leasing and managing mid-rise office buildings, office parks, flex office/warehouse buildings, industrial and manufacturing buildings and undeveloped land throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
Tom Wiser, a spokesman for Duke, said he had no comment on whether Duke was interested in the Baltimore plant.
"Duke is a company with aggressive growth plans, and we're looking at high-growth markets across the country," Wiser said. "We're always looking for growth opportunities across the country."
Duke, founded in 1972, is the largest publicly traded office and industrial property owner in the country, with more than 115 million square feet in a dozen markets, mostly in the Midwest and Southeast. Retail development makes up a small part of the company's business, along with a growing pipeline of health care development.
The company's in-house construction company builds all Duke-owned buildings as well as projects for customers throughout the country.
Gerard J. Wit, vice president of marketing for St. John Properties, a developer of office, retail and mixed use projects that had teamed with other developers to bid on the GM plant, said his company was disappointed that it did not make it to the next round.
The team, which proposed a business campus of office, flexible industrial space and some retail, was informed that its bid did not meet the minimum requirements to advance to the next round.
"We took our best shot and offered as much as we thought reasonable for the property," said Wit, whose team included Baltimore developers Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse and John Paterakis Sr. and Cherokee Investment Partners, a Raleigh, N.C.-based real-estate investment firm that specializes in redeveloping brownfield sites.
A team that included Columbia-based Manekin LLC in partnership with Detroit-based Farbman Group and other companies had proposed a plan that would have retained part of the assembly plant for manufacturing.
GM appeared to "favor those proposals that were to tear down the plant, as opposed to any proposal that might want to save part of it," said Owen J. Rouse Jr., a Manekin senior vice president.