A little more than a year has passed since Milwaukee-based Phoenix Investors announced it would spend $10 million on the former Whirlpool plant at 6400 Jenny Lind Road. On Monday (May 14), the city’s building permit report showed a $2 million investment at the location, with the permitting issued to JB2 Services.
A building official with the city of Fort Smith said the work was on behalf of Phoenix Investors to “redo the roof” and for “demolition and minor repairs on the inside.” The building is 1.136 million square feet and rests on about 97 acres. Talk Business & Politics on Monday reached out to Phoenix Investors’ PR representatives and agent Jason Lennartz, the property’s point-of-contact, but did not receive a response. Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tim Allen also could not be reached for comment.
As of April 2018, Phoenix Investors’ portfolio is spread across 23 states and includes approximately 23 million square feet of commercial properties.
“Given current macroeconomic conditions and recent shifts in retail spending habits, our current investment strategy generally will be to cycle out of big-box, single-tenant retail (where appropriate) to invest in larger value-added industrial properties. Additionally, on a case-by-case basis we will continue acquiring distressed retail and office properties, along with other REO, as opportunities are identified,” the website notes.
David Marks, the company’s president and CEO, told a crowd of about 60 people gathered at a change-of-ownership ceremony last April that Fort Smith would be the fourth former Whirlpool plant the company had “repositioned for redevelopment.” He said the company has had success in finding new tenants for former Whirlpool plants in Illinois, Iowa, and Tennessee.
“We understand the bones of these structures,” Marks said, adding that facility is a “diamond in the rough.”
Marks said companies who are tenants in other Phoenix properties include Briggs & Stratton, Kohler, Georgia-Pacific, Delta Faucets, “and even Whirlpool,” adding that the company’s core focus and competency “lies in restoring legacy industrial properties back to their original greatness. We will bring quality companies and jobs back into the former Whirlpool Complex; we already have a list of prospects.”
Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp. closed the refrigerator manufacturing plant in June 2012, which at the time employed about 1,000, but was home to more than 4,500 jobs at its peak. Trichloroethyclene — a cancer-causing chemical — was found in and around the plant. Whirlpool has been working to monitor and remove the chemicals, with oversight of the work handled by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. ADEQ issued its first remedial action plan in December 2013.
Although the building is owned by Phoenix, Whirlpool continues to hold the responsibility of environmental remediation.
In October 2013, Spartan Logistics acquired a portion of Whirlpools’ large warehouse facility near the manufacturing plant. In 2014, Spartan bought the entire 619,508 square foot warehouse facility and about 54 acres it occupies. Terms of that acquisition were kept private. Initial estimates were that the warehouse and manufacturing space had a replacement cost of $111.6 million.