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Abandoned Chrysler Site Attracts Interest From Kirkwood Electric

Director of the utility says it is gathering facts and information in the "very early" stage of potential redevelopment of the old Chrysler auto assembly plant site.

Those who run , the Kirkwood's own power company, always are looking for ways to deliver power to Kirkwood residents in a practical and  economical way, according to Mark Petty, director of the Kirkwood Electric utility.

Petty currently has his eyes on the abandoned Chrysler site in the  as a potential location for a new natural gas-powered electric generating plant.

"It's very early in the process," Petty said Thursday. "We're going to get all of our data together before moving on to a next step."

Petty said the data collection has the potential of ruling out the Chrysler site as being unfeasible for expanding the Kirkwood portfolio.

"Absolutely it may not be a good fit," he said. "We're doing due diligence."

Petty said there is one thing he knows about the Chrysler site and that is that major manufacturing took place there and that there are gas lines still in place that potentially could be used to deliver natural gas to power an electric plant.

But there are many things to learn about the site of the twin auto assembly plants that closed in 2008-9 and employed about 8,000 people. The assembly plants were shut down as part of Chrysler's Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The South assembly plant manufactured the Dodge Caravan, Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans and was closed in 2008. The North Assembly Plant manufactured the Dodge Ram 1500 and 2500 standard and Quad cab pickup trucks and the RamBox option and closed in 2009.

The more than 5 million square-foot Chrysler facility, which sat on 295 acres, opened in the early 1960s and assembled automobiles, most notably, the Plymouth Road Runner.

The loss of Chrysler to the city's coffers hurt, according to Fenton Mayor Dennis Hancock, but he said careful financial planning long before the automaker fled the scene put the city in somewhat safe harbor.

"Chrysler was worth about a million dollars a year to the city in tax revenues and at the end of 2008 we finished with a one million surplus," Hancock said. "So, if the economy ever turns around, we think we're going to be OK."

Hancock said the city being able to attract other businesses, including , meant it was able to "weather this economic storm" and credited St. Clare with replacing the jobs lost at Chrysler at almost "one for one, and those are people that are shopping in the stores and eating in the restaurants."

Hancock would like to see the vast former Chrysler site along Interstate 44 west of Interstate 270 active again, but the only progress in the last three years has been the expansion of the rumors surrounding the property.

The interest shown by Kirkwood Electric, although only in an initial stage as a possible answer to the redevelopment of the property, is at least more than a rumor. Petty said building a gas-powered electric plant on the old Chrysler could be a way for the utility to diversify its portfolio of power-generating options.

"We're doing what any power company would," Petty said, adding that Kirkwood Electric always is seeking more efficient and more environmentally friendly ways to provide power to its customers.

Kirkwood is the only municipality in the Greater St. Louis area that owns and operates its own electric utility.

The Chrysler property isn't the only game in town, however, Petty said.

"We're doing our homework," Petty said.  "And we have other sites where we are doing the same thing.

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