Local businessmen redeveloping old Navistar site
After being abandoned for the better part of a decade, a piece of the former Navistar property on Richmond Street in Chatham could be ready for development in about three months’ time.
That from the new owners of the 80-plus-acre parcel of prime industrial land in the heart of Chatham.
Rob Myers, Don Tetrault and Mike Vagi joined forces to buy the vacant land. The deal closed in late April.
Navistar had idled its truck plant here in 2009, closed it officially in 2011 and demolished the buildings in 2013.
Now, three local developers hope to breathe new life into a property they said was an “eyesore” for years.
Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff said he has faith in the partners to bring life back to the vacant property.
“I am 100-per-cent confident. As far as Chatham-Kent goes, you couldn’t have a better set of owners coming in,” he said. “These are people who care about the community who want to see this developed.”
The partners said the location speaks for itself.
“This is prime, serviced land. Where do you buy more than 80 acres that’s already fully serviced,” Myers said.
“All the services are there. It’s in the heart of Chatham. There is nice development underway in the area,” he said. “I think this will spur a lot of growth on the south side of town. It’s close to Highway 401 and we have rail nearby.”
“This property has all the natural gas it needs, all the hydro, sanitary and storm sewers. It’s the perfect site for industrial redevelopment and commercial development in front,” Tetrault said. “We have everything here.”
But all three are aware remediation work is needed before all the land can be developed. Tetrault said the partners did their homework on the property. They are also well aware a portion of the site was once a city dump.
“We did an intensive investigation. We know what we’re buying. We’ve got the old Chatham dump located. We know how deep it is,” he said. “We’ve got it in our budget to either cap it or clean it.”
The effort began right after the deal closed. Crews were on site breaking up concrete to access the soil below.
“We’re going to develop the land, clean it up and make it a clean, shovel-ready site,” Tetrault said.
Almost as soon as the trio took over the property, industries began making inquiries.
Tetrault said they’ve received inquiries through the provincial government and Chatham-Kent’s economic development department.
“Companies are trying to locate shovel-ready properties in Ontario,” Tetrault said.
Myers said he was a bit surprised at how quickly companies showed an interest.
“People have heard through the grapevine and through the Ontario government. The city has been approached by a company that is looking at purchasing 20 acres to erect a half-million-square-foot building. We don’t know what they want to manufacture at this point,” he said.
Myers said one inquiry was from a firm looking to build a 150,000 sq.-ft. facility on part of the property.
“They’re talking about 170 jobs. They’re looking. Nothing is firmed up,” he stressed.
Because of the servicing in place, Tetrault said some of the land will be ready for construction before the end of the summer.
“If one of these guys click, we’re going to be shovel ready probably within 90 days,” he said. “Not the whole site, but a 20-acre parcel. We know what we can sell first and what we can’t.”
All three partners are aware of the problematic areas that will require the most remediation.
With access off three streets – Richmond Street, Merritt Avenue and Keil Drive – it opens up much of the property for easy access and development.
Having the land creates opportunities for economic development officials with Chatham-Kent.
“The city is now able to give them a pitch that, ‘We have a property with these developers and we can do this for you. How big do you want it?’” Myers said. “We might be able to put three factories in here and create 1,000 jobs. It would be great for the area. And still have room for further development.”
That further development could include commercial businesses along Keil Drive and possibly a portion of Richmond Street, Myers said.
Canniff said after years of seeing the property vacant, he looks forward to what the future holds.
“This feels fantastic. We all drive by there. We recall how it used to be,” he said. “It looks bad, but now we can rebuild it and look to the future and create jobs again on that site.”