The city of Detroit signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) that could see the company making the single largest investment in its U.S. manufacturing operations history since 2009, to construct an all-new assembly plant within the city limits and retool an existing plant, creating nearly 5,000 new jobs.
Subject to the execution of the terms outlined in the MOU, the city expects FCA to invest $1.6 billion to convert the current Mack Avenue Engine Complex into a vehicle assembly plant for production of the next
generation Jeep Grand Cherokee and an all-new 3-row full-size SUV along with plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models. Construction of the new facility could begin in the second quarter of 2019. In addition, the Company would invest $900 million to modernize its Jefferson North Assembly Plant. The total investment is expected to add nearly 5,000 new jobs in the city.
With the announcement will come some majors changes to the surrounding area of District 4, which is represented by Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey. Mayor Mike Duggan said the city will need to work quickly to acquire nearly 200 acres of land in the area within the next two months.
“We have 60 days to deliver four things,” Duggan said at a press conference at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. “We have to assemble 200 acres of land nearby the plant, because they’re going to build the plant on property FCA already owns on St. Jean and Mack. But when you add 5,000 people, you add huge needs to fill parking and huge needs to store the vehicles that are going to be built.
“We have to solve environmental issues that may exist with that land, we have to get through the city’s community benefits process, and we have to push this through with City Council. That’s a lot of work to do, but there is an awful lot at stake.”
In Detroit’s long and storied history, whenever a massive auto manufacturing facility needs to be inserted within city limits, residents usually have to be pushed out. In 1985, the Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly plant in the old Poletown neighborhood on the city’s eastside saw 4,000 residents, more than 1,000 houses, several Catholic churches and more than 100 businesses razed and displaced. But Duggan said the residents near the plant on St. Jean and Mack will keep their home.
Unfortunately for St. jean, the city will have to close it from Kercheval to East Warren to make room for the new plant, moving traffic a block over to Conner Avenue. The city also plans to tear down the dirt mounds that famously sit along St. Jean, whether the deal goes through or not, in order to redevelop St. Jean.
“We’ve had issues in the past where speeding and drag racing along St. Jean has occurred,” Spivey said. “Now with it closed, that’ll cut St. Jean off, adding to the safety of that neighborhood. We know that Conner will become more congested now, so we hope to talk to MDOT because they have the I-94 project going on as well, and that may need to be done right away to prepare for that ongoing traffic.”
Nearby the plant are two important educational institutions: Wayne County Community College District Eastern Campus and Southeastern High School. If the deal goes through, jobs will need to be filled and workers have to be trained. Officials believe both schools will benefit largely from the expansion of the plant, preparing the workers of the future and assuring Detroiters are prepared to accept union jobs, earning at least $58,000.
“Southeastern is a block away and WCCCD is maybe 3-4 block away,” said Spivey. “WCCCD has the facilities to do the training and hopefully they can work with Chrysler to make some investments to bring people up to speed to be prepared for these new hi-tech jobs. We’ve already talked to WCCCD Chancellor Dr. Ivery, he’s ready to go, and I know that DPSCD is ready to go. The opportunity to train both our high school students and our college students is great.”
City Council President Brenda Jones said the community around the plant will be involved in the process, so that they are aware of the possible changes to come. Community benefits may also be offered, and meetings will be held to see what residents would like to see done in their neighborhood. Fred Gordon works at JNAP and grew near Jefferson and Chalmers, not far from his job. He was all in favor of the new development.
“Since I’ve been working here, there has been a lot of good change, and this one of them,” said Gordon. “The mayor mentioned working on Southeastern High School, where I attended, and I support closing the knowledge gap, allowing those students to be ready to enter the workforce.”
The mayor said 170 acres needed are in the hands of four owners: the city of Detroit, the Moroun family, DTE Energy, and the Great Lakes Water Authority. The rest is owned by smaller property owners. He said it is going to take some bargaining and possible land swaps to get the deal approved.