King Lear

April 14, 2006
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WALKER — Blue Bridge Ventures CEO Jack Buchanan said the change will make it easier for his firm to draw tenants to the development. He made that comment after learning from the Business Journal that the vacant Lear Corp. plant he intends to buy was designated a Renaissance Zone last week.

“That is great news,” said Buchanan. “I think it is certainly going to make it a lot more attractive to a lot more people.”

Buchanan told the Business Journal that interest in the 41-acre property at 2150 Alpine Ave. NW grew when potential tenants learned the site was being considered for the zone, which now will fully exempt them from state and local income taxes, local property taxes, the state’s Single Business Tax and others for 12 years and provide a partial exemption for three more years. The zone clock started ticking on April 11.

“We were already getting a tremendous amount of calls on it, even from some large employers. People with a lot of employees are certainly going to have a lot more interest in it because of the SBT aspect of the Ren Zone,” he said. “So I think it does nothing but ensure the revitalization of that property and a lot of the stuff around it.”

Blue Bridge plans to draw multiple tenants to the plant and reduce the 800,000-square-foot building to a more manageable size. He also plans to locate a retail center in front of the facility, which cranked out auto parts for decades prior to last December.

Rep. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, included the Lear plant in the legislation that became Public Act 116 last week.

“I represent the city of Walker, and with the Lear building shutting down it became a huge eyesore sitting there on Alpine. So I went to work to see what tools I could provide to them that other communities were taking advantage of, and the city of Walker couldn’t because they’re not a core community,” he said.

“The Ren Zone was the second piece I did. The first piece was to allow them to take advantage of the brownfield redevelopment tax incentive, as well. That was signed into law, and now this one was, too. I just wanted to see what tools I could provide to the city to help get that property developed,” added Hildenbrand.

The city of Walker and the Michigan Strategic Fund still have to sign off on the zone and are expected to do so soon.

Blue Bridge has held an option to purchase the plant since last fall, and Buchanan said last week that he was very close to closing on the deal.

“We’re still finishing the environmental (assessment), and that should be done at the end of this week,” he said. “We have a couple more leases that we have to finalize. But within the next few weeks, I think we will be done.”

David Levitt and Brad Rosely, of commercial real estate broker S.J. Wisinski & Co., represented Blue Bridge in the sales negotiations and are assisting the firm in its tenant search. S.J. Wisinski Vice President Stu Kingma represented Lear Corp.

Rosely told the Business Journal last fall that a new Lear could mean up to 1,500 new jobs for Walker. Buchanan said Walker City Manager Cathy VanderMeulen and her staff, along with The Right Place Inc., helped move the project along.

With the crown jewel of a Renaissance Zone designation now in place, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said that the Lear site could once again become an employment king.

“This is great news for companies looking to expand and grow jobs here in Michigan,” said Granholm after signing the bill into law last week. “Renaissance Zone designations and targeted tax credits provide communities with important tools for strengthening their business climate for years to come.”    

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