Saturday, August 15, 2009

'Recovery' group shifts to marketing GM site

By ERIK SHILLING • News Journal • August 11, 2009

MANSFIELD -- Motorsports impresario Roger Penske -- who announced in June he would buy the Saturn brand from General Motors -- was noncommittal after hearing the local sales pitch for the Ontario stamping plant.

Penske met Sunday with Richland Economic Development Corp. Director Mike Greene, but did not tip his hand about buying the Mansfield/Ontario Metal Center, scheduled to close next year.

"I didn't come away thinking that I got anything from him," Greene said. "But he listened."

Penske, who was in Lexington during the weekend for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, met with Greene at the track. Penske said he was looking for about 500,000 square feet in warehouse space. He was unaware GM had announced the stamping plant's closure.

"There's been a lot of rumors, but I'm not sure he's investigated the possibility (of buying the plant) yet," Greene said.

A Penske purchase of the metal center is a longshot, but it's one of the leads the former Mansfield Makes Sense for the New GM committee is pursuing. The committee, re-named the Regional Economic Recovery Team, met Monday in Ontario for the first time since GM executive Tim Lee came to town July 31.

Ontario Mayor Ken Bender said he met with representatives from Motors Liquidation Company -- the old GM -- Monday morning.

"I think at this point we know more than they do about the plant," Bender said. "The plant will go not to the highest bidder, but what's best for the community, I was told."

GM has not announced a final date for the closure, which hampers the committee's attempts to market the site to new buyers. Many engineering details about the facility remain in GM's hands.

Richland County Commissioner Gary Utt said it is imperative to get those details and turn the facility around as quickly as possible.

"No disrespect to the workers out there, but from a marketing perspective for us, the sooner (GM) gets out, the better," Utt said.

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