‘High-quality prospects’ interested in space in former Whirlpool plant in Fort Smith

by Michael Tilley (mtilley@talkbusiness.net) 1,618 views 

Mezzanines, machines, walls and conveyor belts are just a few of the things removed to open up for new uses the former Whirlpool manufacturing plant in Fort Smith.

Part of the more than $3.65 million in ongoing work by Phoenix Investors to further renovate the former Whirlpool manufacturing plant in Fort Smith could make way for a warehouse/distribution operation for Mars Petcare. But Phoenix officials are mum about new tenants.

Milwaukee, Wisc.-based Phoenix Investors recently received two building permits totaling $3.655 million for roof repairs and inside demolition and renovation work on the building. The building is 1.136 million square feet and rests on about 97 acres. It’s the fourth former Whirlpool plant to be redeveloped by Phoenix, which acquired the Fort Smith property in February 2017 for $3.25 million.

As of April 2018, Phoenix managed around 23 million square feet of commercial property in 23 states. While the company hasn’t announced tenants in Fort Smith, other companies that have entered their buildings include Briggs & Stratton, Kohler, Georgia-Pacific, and Delta Faucets. Phoenix President and CEO David Marks said in April 2017 the company would spend around $10 million to prepare the building for new tenants.

Sources have told Talk Business & Politics that a large part of the former Whirlpool building is being renovated to be used by Mars Petcare as a warehouse and/or distribution center. Mars Petcare operates a pet food production plant in Fort Smith at Chaffee Crossing. The plant has announced three expansions since opening in 2009. The latest was announced in December 2016, with the company saying it would invest $72 million in facility and equipment and add 130 jobs in the next few years. At the time, the company employed 252 in Fort Smith.

Comment has been requested from Mars Petcare. This story will be updated if they respond.

Jason Lennartz, a Phoenix associate for acquisition and leasing, would not comment on the Mars Petcare possibility, only telling Talk Business & Politics that Phoenix was working with a “global company for a significant portion of the space.” During a brief tour June 12 of the renovation work, Lennartz said Phoenix is “in discussion with many high-quality prospects.” Around 400,000 square foot now being renovated is in the east side of the building and connected to the offices that once housed Whirlpool managers.

In addition to being able to uniquely prep space for a tenant, Lennartz said the building has other benefits.

“There is the rail(road) potential, as well as the clear ceiling heights and the sheer size of the space that’s available,” Lennartz said, adding that about 600,000 square feet remains to be renovated.

Lennartz also told Talk Business & Politics that Phoenix has been impressed with state and community support of their efforts. He said Tim Allen, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, “has been a huge help.” He also said local contractors are “doing really great work.”

While the building will never house the number of jobs when Whirlpool was operating, Lennartz said investments in restoring the facility to a new use is a positive for the region. At one time Whirlpool employed around 4,500 in Fort Smith. Employment was around 1,000 when the plant closed in June 2012.

Lennartz would not comment on when tenants might be announced, or when Phoenix planned to begin renovating the remaining 600,000 square feet.

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