Volkswagen’s plan for an assembly plant in Chattanooga could create opportunities to help renew the old Wheland Foundries and U.S. Pipe properties, one of its owners said.
Michael Mallen, part of a group that bought the 141-acre adjacent tracts near downtown, said it’s looking at a portion of the combined parcel that could involve VW and a research and education facility.
Staff Photo by Shane McMillan With Volkswagon coming to town, the owners of the old U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry sites near downtown Chattanooga are looking to attract suppliers for the German automaker.
That concept also might include the SimCenter at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the businessman said.
“We’ve got an eye on seeing if those kinds of things might work,” Mr. Mallen said. “(U.S. Rep.) Zach Wamp has expressed interest in seeing the SimCenter at the site.”
Also, he said, the site might incorporate research related to a VW supplier.
“VW has got to identify a supply chain,” Mr. Mallen said. “It will have some brand new suppliers. There may be suppliers from the Northeast or Midwest.”
VW is set to break ground on a $1 billion plant that is expected to employ about 2,000 people at Enterprise South industrial park, with production starting by early 2011.
Mr. Mallen said his group wants “a balanced site” at the former foundry properties holding housing and retail as well.
In looking at VW, however, he cited what German automaker BMW and Clemson University helped do in Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., with creation of the International Center for Automotive Research.
Located on 250 acres, the center has over $200 million in public and private commitments for automotive research.
“Maybe something like that will emerge, but we’d do it in the form and timing that VW desires,” Mr. Mallen said.
He said he was part of a delegation led by the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce that recently visited the BMW assembly plant in South Carolina and saw how that automaker impacted the area.
“We learned from them,” Mr. Mallen said.
The South Carolina center, in addition to wooing BMW’s Information Technology Research Center, has attracted automotive supplier Timken Co. It has a state-of-the-art research and development facility at the site.
Clemson, meanwhile, developed a research and education program in automotive engineering on the campus.
Jeff Pfitzer of the nonprofit downtown Chattanooga redevelopment group RiverCity Co. said it has worked with the ownership group for more than a year to come up with a master plan and craft concepts for the Wheland and U.S. Pipe site.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime piece of property,” he said. “We’ll have to see what kind of opportunities present themselves.”
VW has said it is interested in research opportunities in the Tennessee Valley.
Jill Bratina, a Volkswagen spokeswoman, said recently VW officials already have had talks to discuss opportunities with Oak Ridge National Laboratories.
“In terms of partnerships, we’re just starting that conversation,” she said.
For about a century, Wheland and U.S. Pipe were among Chattanooga’s key manufacturers and a reason why the city earned the nickname “the Dynamo of Dixie.”
However, Wheland went bankrupt in November 2002 and shut down in March 2003 after 136 years of operation.
In early 2006, U.S. Pipe closed after more than 100 years of production in the city.
After the closures, Mr. Mallen and his partners — through two companies, Perimeter Properties LLC and Pipe Properties LLC — bought both sites with the idea of tying the two adjacent locations together into a redevelopment opportunity.
Mr. Mallen said that over the past two years, the economic playing field has changed. He said that downtown housing and retail isn’t at the same fever pitch it once was.
“Fortunately, we didn’t do anything other than plan,” Mr. Mallen said.
He said demolition is complete at the Wheland site. At U.S. Pipe, the group has taken some buildings down. The remainder are reusable or have historical significance, Mr. Mallen said.
He said the group hopes to identify a developer within six months.
Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...