GE Power plans to sell 90-acre Alstom site in Chattanooga

GE Power plans to sell 90-acre Alstom site in Chattanooga

May 29th, 2018 by Mike Pare in Breaking News

The Alstom plant is seen from Point Park on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

This story was updated May 29, 2018, at 11:45 p.m. with more information.

GE Power, which shut production at Chattanooga's former Alstom manufacturing site last year, plans to sell the land to a private party that aims to redevelop it, state regulators said.

The 90-acre Riverfront Parkway site just outside downtown's core has been accepted into the state's brownfield program to spur its reuse, according to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

GE Power timeline

› 1888: James Casey and M.M. Hedges bought property from creditors of a defunct iron company and formed the Casey-Hedges Co. Its business was the making of small boilers.

› 1889: Patrick Walsh and Michael Weidner set up the Walsh-Weidner Co. to produce pressure vessels, tanks, fire tube and water tube boilers.

› 1928: The two companies consolidated and became known as the Hedges, Walsh, Weidner Co. After that, Combustion Engineering purchased the new organization.

› 1956: Combustion’s Chattanooga facilities occupied 100 acres and more than 1.5 million square feet of floor space..

› 1989: Combustion is swallowed by Asea Brown Boveri.

› 2000: Alstom buys the boiler and fossil fuel business of ABB.

› 2007: Alstom announces plans for a new $300 million Chattanooga plant on Riverfront Parkway.

› 2015: GE buys Alstom Power.

› 2016: GE unveils plans to shut Chattanooga Alstom facilities.

Source: Combustion Engineering, Alstom

Troy Keith, a TDEC environmental consultant, said the General Electric subsidiary hasn't revealed the company that plans to buy the property or what kind of uses are slated.

"We'll wait for [the planned buyer] to get with us," he said. "They'll let us know what they want to do."

GE on Tuesday declined to comment, as did CBRE real estate broker Sim Wilson. CBRE has listed the property formerly owned by Alstom and Combustion Engineering and held nearly 6,000 workers three decades ago.

According to TDEC, the property could have industrial and commercial uses, or it could hold multi-family residential units.

Keith said a former steam turbine plant on the site, where France-based Alstom had invested $300 million a decade ago to service the nuclear industry, is "an incredibly nice building."

"It has concrete walls 10 feet thick, all climate controls," he said.

Another older plant made tubing panels for boilers and power generation facilities. It's located closest to Cameron Harbor, which holds an array of new apartments, townhouses and condominiums, with more going up.

Also, that part of the Alstom site is near the planned extension of M.L. King Boulevard to a Tennessee Riverwalk trailhead.

According to the Hamilton County Assessor of Property's Office, the total value of the buildings and 90 acres is more than $56 million.

Helen Burns Sharp, founder of the citizens watchdog group Accountability for Taxpayer Money, said a sale is potentially good news if the buyer continues the Combustion and Alstom tradition of an employment site with well-paying jobs.

"The property is zoned industrial. We have very few industrial sites available in Hamilton County. It would be poor public policy to rezone this 90 acres for more apartments," she said. "We would not be surprised if local investors pressure our elected officials to rezone it to allow a continuation of the Cameron Harbor model."

Local investors are already set to benefit from the new tax increment financing district nearby related to the M.L. King extension, Sharp said.

"One wonders, given this very unusual new TIF, if the city and county will extend that TIF district to include this property," she said.

Part of the former Alstom manufacturing site that held one-time wind tower maker Aerisyn near the end of West Main Street and Riverfront Parkway was sold in 2015 to locally based Talon Office Opportunities GP.

Last year, Techniques Surfaces USA, which coats auto parts, firearms and industrial machinery, began leasing 35,000 square feet of that space.

Concerning the sale of the rest of the Alstom site, Charles Wood, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce vice president for economic development, said last year that the property was put before a group of more than 50 site selection consultants and industrial companies.

"It's a very unique asset," Wood said.

He foresaw a potential institutional investor or group acquiring the site and leasing it to one, two or several entities.

In 2015, GE bought France-based Alstom's power operations and later announced it was closing the steam turbine manufacturing plant and two other adjacent facilities, cutting nearly 235 jobs in Chattanooga. GE said it planned to keep about 50 people in the city.

About 35 years ago, the manufacturing site, then owned by Combustion Engineering, had nearly 6,000 workers and was Chattanooga's largest employer making fossil fuel and nuclear steam generating equipment.

While the employee headcount fell sharply over the decades since, a revival was expected in 2007 when Alstom announced plans to build the $300 million plant to make new turbines for an expected renaissance of the nuclear industry.

However, shortly after the plant opened, an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan and its Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011.

Contact staff writer Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.


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