Newsmaker Lear Corp. Plant

January 8, 2007
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WALKER — Some automotive executives consider redesigning the grille on an existing model a bold move. But what really qualifies as a bold move is redesigning the future of a vacant and massive automotive parts plant in an economy that is shedding manufacturing jobs.

Bold, though, isn’t the only reason The Alpinist Endeavors LLC is a finalist for the 2007 Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year Award. The $19 million the adventurous partners are investing in the 775,000-square-foot former Lear Corp. plant that sits on 41 acres at 2150 Alpine Ave. NW in Walker promises to bring life to a potential eyesore and create 600 to 1,500 new jobs, according to the state.

“This project is a great step forward for the environment and the economy of Walker,” said Steven Chester, director of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Jack Buchanan, CEO of development company Blue Bridge Ventures LLC, and John C. Buchanan, a partner in law firm Buchanan & Beckering, make up The Alpinist Endeavors. They’re also son and father, respectively, and together they took an expensive flier on an expansive undertaking.

“We started this project because we were looking to relocate GR Spring and Stamping. I had a deal with (owner) Jim (Zawacki) to relocate the company out of downtown. My goal was to redo his property, to make his property part of a larger development,” said Jack Buchanan.

“The deal was we had to find him a replacement property that would be satisfactory. That is what started this, looking for a site for him.”

GR Spring and Stamping is leasing over 100,000 square feet in the plant and transferring up to 125 employees to the site. Amstore, which makes shelving, display racks and other items for retailers, has already leased about 400,000 square feet and has about 50 employees working there.

“When we closed on the plant, we didn’t know whether Zawacki was a possibility or not. It just got to be a fairly good project, even price-wise, and that’s why we went ahead and closed. So when we closed, we didn’t know whether he was a user of space or not,” said Buchanan.

The Buchanans closed on the plant last April and got plenty of support from the city of Walker and the state when they signed the sales agreement. Walker officials, led by City Manager Cathy Vander Meulen, agreed to put the factory in the Renaissance Zone and to help the Buchanans get a $1 million loan from the DEQ for remedial work at the plant.

State Rep. Dave Hildenbrand, a Republican from Lowell, introduced the measure that gave the plant its tax-exempt status.

“The loss of jobs when the Lear plant closed was a devastating blow to the community and its economy,” said Hildenbrand. “Now we have a chance to revitalize the economy as part of a tax-free Renaissance Zone.”

This year marks the third time Jack Buchanan has been a finalist for Newsmaker of the Year, so it’s fair to write that he has made bold moves in the past and that he has the endurance to redesign the Lear plant.

“We’re probably coming up on two years now that we’ve been working on it,” said Buchanan. “Including Jim, we think the building can be fully occupied by next spring.”    

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