Starr MFG – Manufacturing for AutoParkit LLC

AutoParkit Buys GE Buildings for Plant, HQ

By George Nelson | May 2, 2017

WARREN, Ohio – AutoParkit LLC will move forward with plans to establish its headquarters and manufacturing operations in Warren – just not where its president intended.

Warren native Christopher Alan announced Monday afternoon that he has purchased two properties from General Electric Corp. after efforts to acquire the adjacent Delphi Packard Electric property fell through. Terms were not disclosed.

“Unfortunately, at the end of the day we just weren’t able to come to terms and we ran out of time,” Alan said. “Business dictates that you have to move on.”

Alan spoke at a news conference inside the 310 Dana St. N.E. building his company purchased along with a site across the street. Representatives of local governments and economic development agencies joined Alan and other AutoParkit representatives Monday afternoon.

In October 2015, Alan announced his plans to acquire the nearby former Packard property, where his parents both worked, and locate AutoParkit’s HQ and manufacturing operations there. Now based in Los Angeles, the company designs, manufactures and builds automated parking systems.

“We still plan on making good on that commitment,” he said.

In the former GE building, which is just under 100,000 square feet, Alan outlined his plans for that site and the property across the street, where the former Ohio Lamp Plant building once stood.

“This building isn’t conducive to us doing manufacturing here. However, it’s a good starting point,” he said. The company closed on the property a week and a half ago, he said.

AutoParkit will do some light manufacturing and assembly of components and testing in the Dana Street building, he said. He plans to locate some 30 to 40 architects and engineers in the second-floor space of the former GE plant. The four-acre site across the street, which has rail access, will provide space to transfer materials and products.

Alan’s purchase of the GE property reinforces his commitment to the city, Mayor Doug Franklin said. “He could have pulled out and we’re glad he stayed committed to his old community – our community,” he remarked.

The building was constructed in the first decade of the 20th century, based on building inspection records, Alan said.

“This gives us a little bit of breathing room. We’ve been pressed,” Alan said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to bring as much manufacturing here already as we planned because the time frame has lagged.”

The company is working on projects that were unimaginable 18 months ago, when he first announced plans for the local plant, automated parking decks “in the thousands of stalls per project,” he reported. He is seeing demand not only across the United States but internationally.

“It could be opportunities for us for the next 20 years,” he said.

AutoParkit has started manufacturing some components locally using local manufacturers such as Bloom Industries Inc., Starr Manufacturing Inc. and Northwest Hydraulic Services Inc.  Alan has hired about 20 people locally, and he expects to have as many as 60 employed within a year.

The site provides “a good starting place” as the company looks for “the perfect property” for the new plant, ideally within the city limits, he said. Alan estimated the former GE property – where he intends to maintain operations even after he secures the larger plant — gives the company about 12 months to find suitable space. His preference is for an existing building, although he did not rule out new construction.

He is looking for property to locate manufacturing, offices, 24-hour support call center, maintenance and distribution operations. The Delphi property had about 120,000 square feet of office space and 320,000 square feet of manufacturing space on 22 acres. “That’s the ballpark of where we’d like to be,” he said.

“From there it will grow pretty quickly,” he said. “Part of that is having the facility and having it setup. We still have to subcontract a lot of stuff because we’ve been unsuccessful in setting up a facility.”

He also did not explicitly rule out the Delphi property but said that wasn’t up to him.

AutoParkit spent just over $1.5 million on the former Delphi Packard building, which is owned by Sergio DiPaolo of Girard. Including costs such as travel and establishing servers locally, he put the cost of the entire endeavor at nearly $2.5 million.

In addition, the Western Reserve Port Authority recently completed a $200,000 Phase II environmental study of the property. The study estimated addressing environmental issues at the site would cost $2.6 million, including $1.5 million for asbestos abatement.

JobsOhio, the state’s public-private economic development agency, will reimburse the port authority for the cost of the study, said Anthony Trevena, director of economic development for the port authority and head of the Northeast Ohio Development and Finance Authority, its economic development arm.

The environmental assessment “came back a little worse” than anticipated and the timeframe would have been “challenging,” Alan said. Nonetheless, his company would have moved forward if an agreement could have been reached for the property, he added.

The Delphi site “would have needed a Phase II, regardless of who the developer is,” Trevena said. The port authority will continue to play a role with the project, depending on what AutoParkit needs. Port authorities have powers under statute with regard to transfer of real estate, types of leases and the ability to issue bonds that might benefit the project, he said.

“As [the project] evolves, there are roles that we might play that are necessary for its success. We don’t know until we see it all roll out,” he continued.

Franklin said his administration would work with Alan to identify potential locations. “We’ve already located some sites that we’re probably going to tour this week,” he said.

Copyright 2017 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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