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‘Project Crispy’ addition would represent near-100% usage of former GM plant

If an unnamed snack food company makes a new home at what was once an empty General Motors plant off Stroop Road, it will mark a new milestone in the long history of that industrial complex.

When GM ended SUV assembly work at the plant in late December, 2008, about 1,000 employees immediately lost their jobs. The huge, multi-building complex was essentially empty.

If the “Crispy” business sets up shop at the plant with a food manufacturing operation, the plant will be all but full.

Moraine City Manager Mike Davis estimated that probably 80% of the complex is occupied by tenants now.

“Occupancy of the former paint facility would bring it very close to 100 (%) except for some ancillary-type structures,” said Davis, who worked as Moraine’s development director when GM vacated the plant.

A bit of history: About three years after GM left, developers from California and Cleveland took control of the site, setting the stage for a Chinese automobile windshield and glass producer, Fuyao, to anchor its American arm there in 2014. Other companies large and small have also found a home at what is still sometimes called the former “GM-Moraine plant.”

Paint Shop revitalization

It’s the plant’s former “paint shop” that is eyed by the still-anonymous snack food manufacturer. In county records, the company said over three years it would create 250 jobs with an estimated payroll of $12.5 million. The average salary would be $50,240 a year.

The company, which is a manufacturer of branded potato chips, tortillia chips, whole grain chips, puff, curls and other snacks, has not made a final decision on the location.

Wary of prematurely identifying the interested business, Moraine and Montgomery County officials have code-named that business prospect “Project Crispy,” a not-so-subtle nod to the snack food enterprise.

“If Project Crispy is secured it would fill the (GM-Moraine complex’) last remaining building,” Davis said.

Fuyao owns a significant chunk of the former manufacturing facility, and the industrial development partnership IRG/ICP (Industrial Realty Group/Industrial Commercial Properties) is leasing the south building to Fuyao and Yaskawa, he said.

When it comes to the site’s land, auto auction company Copart owns a large portion along Ohio 741, and Airgas (a provider of industrial, medical and specialty gases) is a tenant further north, he said.

Regarding property along Dryden Road, there is still opportunity for development, though Moraine has been successful in some new ownership and facilities by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), R&J Trucking and Wright Mulch, Davis also said.

Added Davis, “The city was unfortunately a microcosm of the national economy in 2009 and now it’s safe to say we are a wonderful case study in how to approach the redevelopment of a massive auto manufacturing facility.”

For Davis, it was a matter of focus. He said the city was forced to take a negative and make it positive.

“Which we were able to do by not focusing on the loss of jobs and vacant site but rather the talented workforce ready and available, and then the asset opportunity of having over two million square feet with tremendous existing utility infrastructure open for reinvestment,” he said.

Dave Hicks, who was city manager of Moraine when GM left the plant, was pleased to hear of the latest development.

“That’s just wonderful news for the community and the city of Moraine specifically,” said Hicks, who lives in Washington Twp. now. “Mike and the rest of his staff are working aggressively with whoever the parties are to make this happen. They’ve been very effective, obviously.”

It was Hicks who called California-based industrial developer Stu Lichter — someone who already had a long track record in Northeast Ohio — in 2009 to try to persuade him to buy the former GM plant and develop it.