by Scott McClallen
Taxpayers might foot $15 million for a private-public deal to redevelop the former Buick City brownfield site in Flint. The partnership hopes to create 3,000 jobs.
Real estate investment company Ashley Capital is contracted to purchase the 350-acre former Buick City site from Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust and plans to develop an industrial park.
PFAS contamination, concrete foundations, and underground utility infrastructure are significant challenges to redeveloping the site that General Motors abandoned via its 2011 bankruptcy.
Ashley Capital seeks $17 million in grant assistance to remediate the site. It’s secured $2.35 million of federal COVID relief from the Flint City Council and $3.25 million of federal COVID relief from Genesee County.
The CS Mott Foundation gave $2 million for the project.
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation could approve the final $8.5 million as soon as November.
Michael LaFaive, senior director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said that state subsidies to redevelop specific commercial properties are “unfair and expensive.”
“Rather than chase state subsidies to rehabilitate a brownfield Flint officials should ask why businesses and people left in the first place,” LaFaive said in a statement. “The state simply can’t help Flint pay its way out of its economic deficiencies.”
A recent Mackinac Center study ranked the Flint metropolitan area 13th out of 14 areas in the state for economic liberty.
“Economic freedom has been associated with business development, lower unemployment rates as well as faster employment and population growth,” LaFaive said.
According to the current purchase agreement, RACER Trust would continue environmental remediation in specific site areas after the sale is finalized. Ashley Capital would begin redeveloping 290 acres that are ready for build. Ashley Capital would redevelop the rest of the site when the environmental cleanup is complete.
Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley said the deal would be “transformational” for Flint residents.
“After multiple attempts to bring investors to the former Buick City site over the years, we were able to put together a funding partnership for environmental remediation that is a true game-changer,” Sheldon Neeley said in a statement. “We’re taking one of the largest brownfield sites in Michigan and transforming this liability into an asset for economic development. This is going to have a major impact on economic opportunity and quality of life for Flint residents.”
Ashley Capital says it will invest about $300 million in the site, pending a due diligence period ending in early 2023.
The proposed investment would include seven to nine new light industrial/warehouse buildings totaling between 3.5 and 4.5 million square feet of available space.
Flint is pursuing the deal with one-time COVID relief, aiming to boost the city’s tax revenue as more than 20,000 residents have fled in the last ten years.
Separately, Michigan taxpayers will pay $2.5 million for VIA Motors Inc., an electric vehicle manufacturer, to relocate from Utah to Auburn Hills. The company has 85 employees globally and says it will create 300 jobs.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.
Photo “Flint, Michigan” by Flintmichigan. CC BY-SA 4.0.