Tim Allen has said a the key to bringing jobs back to the shuttered Whirlpool facilities in Fort Smith is to find the first tenant in a “multi-tenant model.”
Columbus, Ohio-based Spartan Logistics is expected to be that first tenant, according to a statement issued Monday (Oct. 28) by Allen, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. Allen said the privately-held company was not releasing info on jobs or investment.
Officials with Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp. have told the chamber that Spartan will occupy about 100,000 square feet of the more than 600,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility near Whirlpool’s large manufacturing plant. Spartan, a third-party logistics provider, handles some logistics for Owens Corning, which has a plant in Fort Smith. The chamber statement suggested that Spartan may expand the amount of space used.
Whirlpool Corp. announced in October 2011 it would close the Fort Smith plant. The eventual June 2102 closure of the plant marked the end of more than 45 years of Whirlpool operations in Fort Smith. Employment at the refrigerator production plant ranged from a high of 4,600 in early 2006 to around 1,000 when the plant closed.
Whirlpool is under pressure to clean up potentially cancer-causing trichloroethylene (TCE) that the company admits leaked into the groundwater in and near its former manufacturing facility in Fort Smith. Questions about the pollution have also created uncertainty as to the viability of any future use of the property. The warehouse facility is not near the polluted area.
“The lease agreement between Spartan Logistics and Whirlpool is welcome news to our community. It will be great to see a company operating a business on the property again. Spartan Logistics had several other options to consider for their operations and we are pleased that they chose the Whirlpool building in Fort Smith.” Allen noted in the statement.
Whirlpool Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs Jeff Noel said Oct. 8 that the company is working through the due diligence process with a buyer who has a “strong interest” in acquiring the more than 2.2 million square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space on the 52-acre Whirlpool property in south Fort Smith.
The lease between Spartan and Whirlpool will not interfere with that process.
“Whirlpool Corporation officials confirmed the lease is fully supported by the various parties that are working through their due diligence as part of the possible acquisition of the entire Whirlpool parcel for long term redevelopment of the site,” Noel said in the statement from the chamber.
Spartan, founded in 1988, boasts on its website that its almost 2 million square feet of combined warehouse space is located within 500 miles – one-day truck delivery – of two-thirds of the U.S. population.
Allen said much of that reach is on the east coast and central U.S. The Fort Smith location provides Spartan with more reach in the south and west.
“We have a company that sees a community, that sees our community as one that is logistically located to their advantage,” Allen said in an interview with The City Wire.
Allen said the re-use model for the property pursued by the chamber and others is a “multiple tenant-type operation.”
Allen is also pleased that Whirlpool is moving toward selling the entire facility. Allen said it’s the “best-case scenario for Whirlpool and Fort Smith” to have someone else own the property. State officials, including Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, have said they will have a better chance of returning jobs to the site when Whirlpool no longer owns it.
“Problem is, Whirlpool still owns it and doesn’t want it marketed to a competitor,” Beebe said in an August 2012 interview.
Allen said the strategy to market the facility will not likely change with a new owner.
“But regardless of who the owner is, the multi-tenant scenario is probably where we are going,” Allen explained.