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April 26, 2012

FEATURE | Demolition

DAN REAUME

The new Chrysler Logistics Centre in Windsor measures more than eight Canadian football fields in size.

Mammoth Chrysler warehouse rises from plant’s ashes

WINDSOR, ONT.

It measures more than eight Canadian football fields and will be the largest single warehouse facility in Chrysler Group’s property portfolio when it opens here in late summer.

The new Chrysler Logistics Centre also is the highly successful story of reclaiming a long vacant brownfield site in the centre of this once bustling automobile and related factory town. Many of those former plants, well in use up to only 20 years ago, now lie dormant, with rusting loading docks and fences as municipal authorities seek ways to redevelop these hulks, often unsuccessfully.

In this case the site was the former home of the Chrysler Pillette road truck assembly plant, which built large and commercial vans, and was ironically built as recently as 1974. This was part of Canadian auto manufacturers’ rapid expansion of vehicle production in Canada under the auto pact with the United States. The pact required one vehicle to be built in Canada for every one sold here. But with the demise of the pact in 2001 and a lessening in that vehicle’s demand Chrysler halted production in 2003. Ironically Chrysler was still considering a future role for the site and had partially constructed a paint shop at the time of demolition.

The site is only a few kilometres from the company’s long time and highly productive Windsor assembly plant, which produces Chrysler’s popular minivans. Indeed the logistics warehouse will conveniently serve that plant. It’s also adjacent to a large CNR yard and CPR right-of-way, and the city’s cross town E.C. Row Expressway, the backbone of new outlying business parks.

The contract went to Windsor design-builder Rosati Group, which also hit upon the idea of developing an adjoining 67 acres in what’s being called the Grand Central Business Park. It will be the largest new industrial lands site in the city, which had been at a geographical limit for manufacturing growth. The additional acres are “shovel ready,” co-owner Tony Rosati said.

Most of the van plant had been demolished several years ago but what remained was the foundation. Rosati went to work excavating and crushing and recycling the concrete. “It remained on site. We crushed it into granular B for standard backfill,” he said.

The construction span is relatively short, with work beginning just last July. The voluminous building is relatively simple in design — conventional post and beam and pre-finished metal siding. The roof is TPO (Thermoplastic Olefin) white energy conserving membrane.

Rosati, who owns the building and is leasing to Chrysler, has also applied to the Ontario government for a permit to install solar roof panels.

“We have our application in ... like everybody else,” he chuckled, a nod to the politicized government Feed-In Tariff permit process.

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Rosati, whose company is a well-regarded family-run, 40-year-old local design-build firm with a wide array of buildings under its belt, said there’s no question that this project is the largest it’s undertaken. He joked that “after this one here not too many more” will likely be “this exciting.”

The major challenge was maintaining some of the existing services such as exterior concrete pads, storm sewers and the surface grade, which met with mixed results. “Some we had to redo,” he acknowledged.

Meanwhile the firm is also building a traffic roundabout off Plymouth Road to the immediate north. The $1 million unconventional roundabout is designed to separate heavy volumes of slow-moving trucks from other city traffic while the trucks travel the short distance from the warehouse to the Windsor assembly plant.

The warehouse will have 185 dock doors and will replace two leased warehouses on Windsor’s far west side. Chrysler uses the facilities to stage parts shipments from outside the city for just-in-time delivery to the three-shift minivan plant. One side of the new building is for receiving and the other side for shipping. Hundreds of trucks from across Canada and the United States make deliveries.

“Components and parts, so it’s everything, all of the trucks that deliver parts, bring them there,” company spokeswoman LouAnn Gosselin said. “And they all get sequenced and shipped to the plant just-in-time for each shift.”

Chrysler officials have been tight-lipped about the price tag. “We’re not going to talk about cost,” Gosselin said. And Rosati said a reported $100 million value for the warehouse was incorrect.

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