DETROIT -- Nearly half of the 267 U.S. automotive manufacturing plants that have closed since 1979 have been partially renovated or are being renovated, a study by the Center for Automotive Research said today.
In addition, more than 40 percent of the sites surveyed were bought for a new use between 2008 and 2010 -- the time many automakers were forced to restructure.
The study by the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based center included 447 sites in 28 states that have been in operation since 1979 -- 60 percent of which have since closed. Sixty-five percent of those closed sites belonged to General Motors, 16 percent to Ford, 16 percent to Chrysler and 3 percent to other automakers, according to the study.
The study noted repurposing rates were lower in counties with high unemployment, declining population and a high concentration of closed auto facilities.
"While each community with a closed automotive facility faces unique challenges, this report helps shine a light on how community engagement, a focus on flexibility and the involvement of the private sector, nonprofit group and all levels of government can help them recover," the U.S. Labor Department's Jay Williams said in a statement. Williams is director of the department's office of recovery for auto communities and workers.
CAR calculated that 72 percent of the closed plants were among the top three employers in their communities when they closed but experts acknowledged few if any of the renovated facilities employed the same amount of people who worked there under a carmaker's name.
"These communities are often defined by these facilities in terms of employment and of their identity," Williams told the New York Times in a report. "And there's an emotional and psychological benefit."
Most of the new sites have since been used for industrial purposes, but others have used been used as warehouses, commercial facilities, educational institutions or even for recreational purposes.
CAR outlined case studies of reused facilities in Baltimore; Batavia, Ohio; Coopersville, Mich.; Doraville, Ga.; Kenosha, Wis.; Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.; and South Gate, Calif.
In Ohio, for instance, a branch of the University of Cincinnati occupies part of the 1.8-million-square-foot space where a Ford transmission plant closed in 2008. UC Clermont East uses 80,000 square feet of former plant office space for programs offering two-year associate and four-year bachelor's degree programs in allied health careers. It could expand further.
Still, results were more positive when regional cooperation, government financing or incentives and close proximity to mass transit and other transportation infrastructures were considered in the redevelopment process, the study noted.
Some of the most significant barriers to overcome before reusing a property include rezoning, building demolition, slab removal, environmental remediation and purchase price negotiation, researchers found.
As such, Williams cautioned that not all sites could necessarily be repurposed, the New York Times noted.