Tony Van Alphen
Toronto Star Reporter
A key cog in southwestern Ontario’s economy for more than four decades is now up for sale.
Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. confirmed Thursday that the company started marketing the sale of its giant assembly plant in St. Thomas and a nearby property this week.
The company is seeking $22.7 million for the site and $2.1 million for a 161-acre nearby vacant piece of land.
Ford, which announced the closing of the 44-year-old plant in the fall of 2009, will stop production of the Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car later this year. The operation employs about 1,000 workers on one shift.
The plant, just southwest of London, covers 2.13-million sq. ft. of manufacturing and office space on 461 acres. It is near major highways and railways and boosts a significant infrastructure.
Ford has retained CB Richard Ellis Ltd., a major real estate company, to sell the property. The firm has indicated that other manufacturers have already made inquiries about the site.
But Stefanie Denby, marketing and communications manager for Ford’s land branch at world headquarters in Dearborn. Mi., said it is more difficult to sell properties in the current economic environment because prospective buyers face more difficulties in obtaining financing.
“We have sold plants in as little as one year but some take several years,” she said.
The automaker has closed eight assembly and parts plants in North America since 2006 in a massive restructuring to save the company. New owners have adapted them for continuing industrial use or torn the buildings down and redeveloped the property, Denby noted.
“Ford has been a part of the St. Thomas community for many years and we want to leave a positive legacy,” she said. “We are committed to putting the property back to productive use.”
The plant has produced more than eight million cars ranging from the Falcon, Maverick, Pinto and Escort to the current full size models since opening in 1967. Ford stopped building the Grand Marquis model early this year.
Employment peaked during the last decade at more than 2,000 on two shifts but the plant has sputtered in recent years as the popularity of full size cars declined because of climbing fuel prices. Parts companies, which supplied the plant, have also employed thousands of other workers.
Ken Lewenza, national president of the Canadian Auto Workers, said the union recently pressed the company again to find alternative uses for the plant including turning it into a parts operation but it was unsuccessful.
“When Ford announced what they were doing in 2009, it was devastating,” he said in an interview. “By putting up the “for sale” sign, it’s like a wake now.”