By Dylan Doherty
Prospects for a Lear Corporation automative seat assembly plant expected to bring 450 to 500 jobs to Flint moved one step closer to implementation Aug. 22 when the Flint Planning Commission approved the site plan for the facility.
The plant will be built where the Buick administrative building in Buick City once stood. It will be approximately 156,000 square feet, according to Doug Daugherty, vice president of global facilities and real estate for Lear.
The closure of most of the 390-acre Buick City site in 1999 created one of the largest brownfields in the state. As summarized in a recent article in The Detroit News, in its heyday the huge complex employed nearly 30,000; it was the manufacturing home of the Buick Regal and Buick LeSabre. Its bright lights were one of the first things travelers saw when coming into Flint from the north on I-475.
The Lear plant might bring back a little of that former industrial energy, with the facility expected to operate seven days a week with three shifts of 170-240 employees a day.
Lear is a Michigan-based international manufacturer of automative seating and electrical distribution systems, with more than 200 manufacturing facilities worldwide and global sales of $16 billion as of 2013, according to its 2014 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The Buick City location was selected from a list of 30 potential locations, Daugherty said, adding it will be the first manufacturing facility constructed by Lear in Michigan in 16 years.
Out of 17 buildings currently being planned for construction by Lear around the world, Daugherty said the Flint plant is the only one being built in the United States. The developer for the site is E & L Construction Group of Flint.
Daugherty said Lear wants the plant to be open for moving equipment in and constructing prototype parts by March 2018.
According to Daugherty the plant will be a “clean process building” – that is, it will not output gases, waters, or waste. It “looks more like a laboratory,” Daugherty said, and will not include welding or plastics.
Kevin Schronce, lead planner for the City of Flint, said the plant is zoned for light manufacturing use, and that Lear has committed to “the footprint, the use, the position, and the size [of the plant] on site.” Schronce added that the landscaping which Lear has committed to for the site goes “above and beyond” City of Flint ordinances.
After discussion, The Planning Commission approved the Flint site plan, conditional on administrative review, on a 7-0 vote with Commissioner Leora Campbell absent.
The seat assembly plant and parking lot will be located on the southwest and southeast corner of E. Hamilton and Industrial avenues.
The front of the building will face East Hamilton. The primary parking lot for workers and management will be east of the plant across Industrial, with a 23-space parking area in front for vendors, customers, and guests. To ensure safety of workers and management crossing Industrial to enter the facility, Lear, in cooperation with the City of Flint, will build a crosswalk connecting the primary parking area with the plant site.
Inbound trucks will travel southbound on North Street and drop of their materials at the west side of the plant. Outbound trucks will exit to the west of the site, proceed east on Harriet Street, and turn right on Industrial Avenue. Trucks entering or exiting the plant site will not travel on Industrial Avenue between Harriet Street and E. Hamilton Avenue.
Renderings of the exterior and interior Lear provided to the Flint Planning Commission are in early stages and are not the “final product,” Daugherty said. The site will use approximately 24 trucks in total.
Commissioner Elizabeth Jordan asked if Lear or the City of Flint would bear the costs of future street improvements mentioned by Daugherty, including a proposed right turn lane at the intersection of North Street and E Hamilton Avenue. Daugherty said that all on-site costs will be borne by Lear, but that the proposed improvements will not be in place by March. He added, “Our mission is to build, hire, and open” by March, 2018.
Commissioner Robert Jewell continued Jordan’s line of questioning, pointing out that the proposed street improvements are not on-site but off-site costs. Jewell asked if these off-site costs will be borne by the City of Flint or Lear. Daugherty said that he “anticipates” that Lear will cover those costs, but admitted that there is currently no money in Lear’s budget for this site for off-site street improvements.
Commissioner Denise Smith-Allen asked about dust or noise that may come from the building. Daugherty said there would not be dust or noise coming from the building. Jewell noted that this was not explicitly noted on the site plan.
Jewell said Daugherty had mentioned future meetings and revisions many times regarding the site plan being reviewed. “If our role as a planning commission is to review a final document . . . why are we reviewing this?” Jewell asked.
Daugherty said any changes will be improvements and if necessary the plan before the Planning Commission could be the final plan. Daugherty added Lear had to bid twice for this project and the site plan needs to be reviewed and approved as soon as possible to stay on schedule to open the facility in March.
Commissioner Phyllis McCree asked if any future changes would be cosmetic or not, to which Daugherty responded they would be cosmetic. Jewell suggested the site plan could be improved conditional on administrative review of any future changes. “I’m not against the intent. I’m concerned about process and specifics,” Jewell added.
Commissioner Harry Ryan said that if there were any future changes to the site plan, Lear would have to come before the Flint Planning Commission again and have the changes reviewed. Planning Commission Chairman Robert Wesley agreed, saying that Lear “can file another plan,” for “any future plans that might come forward.”
According to Reuters and The New York Times, Lear briefly filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 but emerged out of bankruptcy four months later.
EVM staff writer Dylan Doherty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson contributed to this report.