GM transforms rust belts to green belts The consumer's image of a press conference featuring an industrial company and the Environmental Protection Agency is not very good.

And David Skiven, executive director of General Motors Corp.'s Worldwide Facilities Group, recognizes this as he kicks off a gathering of scribes featuring the automaker and the EPA at GM's Truck Product Center (TPC) in Pontiac, MI. "I can remember the day when having a meeting with the Feds meant it was not going to be an easy day," Mr. Skiven said.

But this day is different. The EPA is recognizing GM for its redevelopment efforts, which stretch from California to New York, as well as internationally. Most business-wise investors wouldn't even consider some of the projects GM has completed, such as filling in 2 miles (3.2 km) of underground tunnels to build a public golf course. "We are very concerned and work very hard to take our former production facilities and put them back into a productive reuse," Conrad Schwartz, GM director of asset management, tells WAW.

Manufacturing operations are bittersweet to communities. Decades of well-paying jobs are the attraction. But a plant closure can put a region's survival at stake. A deserted factory is dangerous and depressing - a sad reminder of better times.

That's no longer the case. In fact, some times employment levels at a redeveloped facility top the size of the former assembly plant's workforce. Which is what happened in St. Louis where a 3 million-sq.-ft. (270,000 sq.-m) GM factory was remodeled and 118 acres (48 ha) were cleared for newly paved roads and landscaping. Renamed the Union Seventy Center, the industrial warehouse now is home to companies including Pepsi-Cola after spending 67 years as an assembly plant. During its apex, the facility employed 15,000 workers - the same number that enters the site daily in 2001.

There's a similar story in Pontiac. The TPC where the EPA press conference was held used to be a manufacturing complex. It was selected in 1992 as the automaker's Truck Group headquarters. About three-fourths of the existing building was demolished and the remaining 1.1 billion-sq.-ft. (102 million-sq.-m) was renovated. Hotels, restaurants and businesses have moved on to the campus, called Centerpoint, and about 15,000 jobs have been created.

"As a result of this Centerpoint development we now have two new hotels, a shopping center, we have a day care center here. And we believe this is just the tip of the iceberg," says Pontiac Mayor Walter Moore.

Like an iceberg, there's a lot more to GM's redevelopment efforts than can be seen in the finished projects. A staff of 70 professional real estate agents oversees GM's 15 current redevelopment projects in the U.S. and all other land matters of the automaker.

While GM has been in the real estate business almost since its inception, widespread redevelopment efforts really got under way in the 1980s as several assembly plants, built during the first half of the 1900s, started to become obsolete. The U.S. had become a graveyard for factory skeletons, and GM decided it was time to be the caretaker.

It began consulting local communities regarding redevelopment scenarios. And it has resulted in some pretty creative reuses.

Take a Van Nuys, CA, facility, for example. A Chevy plant for 40 years, redevelopment in the 1990s turned it into a retail and industrial center. Known as The Plant, the 68-acre (27-ha) site includes stores, restaurants, and a movie theater. Another 5 acres (2 ha) were ceded to the local community for a police and fire station.

The shuttered assembly plants aren't always saved, however. In Clark, NJ, and Sleepy Hollow, NY, the automaker has completely leveled buildings. The 90-acre (36-ha) Clark site, just south of Newark, is especially noteworthy. Recognizing an acute shortage of public links in the heavily urbanized Northeast, GM demolished a 1 million-sq.-ft. (900,000-sq.-m) facility and brought in 700,000 cu. yds. (540,000 cu. m) of dirt to fill in 2 miles (3.2 km) of tunnels - which were used by maintenance crews to work on infrastructure without disturbing production - and create the hills necessary for a golf course. "It took more than just one brain storm session to come up with that," Mr. Schwartz recalls.

In Sleepy Hollow, the Tarrytown plant has been flattened and within 12 to 18 months action is expected on nearly 100 acres (40 ha) of prime property located on the Hudson River about 30 miles (48 km) north of Manhattan. Housing developments, businesses, convention centers and hotels are some of the possibilities.

But GM rarely sticks around long to reap the rewards of its redevelopment efforts. And it won't say if it profits from them. "Long term, we don't really want to be landlords of properties," explains Mr. Schwartz, who adds, "If at the end of the day GM has some economic return, that's great. But I don't know if that's where we start off from."