Janesville hopes General Motors will leave $25M legacy

4 developers identified as finalists for GM property sale

While Janesville awaits the sale of the former General Motors assembly plant, the city is looking to improve its economic development in the area and asking the automaker for a little help.

The city is asking General Motors to donate $25 million to establish a “legacy fund” to boost the local economy and help fund revitalization efforts in the city.

City Manager Mark Freitag sent a letter Monday addressed to GM’s CEO and chairwoman, Mary Barra. The $25 million gift would be managed by the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin.

“This idea of economic revitalization, workforce development and community development are really those three pillars that we think GM could leave a lasting legacy here that benefits the community,” Freitag said.

GM employed as many as 7,000 people at the Janesville plant until operations stopped in 2008. The property remained on “standby” status until last fall, when the company announced it would sell the 250-acre property.

“The closure of Janesville was a traumatic experience for the company. We understand that as a responsible cooperate citizen we are committed to taking the necessary steps to prepare that facility for sale,” General Motors spokesperson Dan Flores said.

Flores said he is unaware if GM has ever granted a request like Janesville’s in the past. He said the company’s GM Foundation makes frequent contributions to various communities and evaluates requests on a case-by-case basis.

“We have a long history in Janesville. We have some great memories there, built a lot of great products, very important products for General Motors and we certainly appreciate everything the city has done,” Flores said.

Freitag said GM has talked about leaving a legacy in Janesville before. Ideas from the community have included an automobile museum and civic center, but city officials said a fund would benefit the area for years to come at a potential rate of $100,000 a year.

“That proves to offer a lot of opportunities for organizations, companies here in Janesville as we move forward. We see this as another opportunity to ensure that Janesville is well taken care of into the future,” he said.

Freitag said the idea came from a previous donation from the charity of Parker Pen.

In 1944, Parker Pen donated $1 million to go toward community improvement projects. The funds helped to establish the Janesville Foundation, which has contributed money to the city’s school district, Hedger Library and other establishments. The company left the city in 2009. Today, the gift would be equivalent to $13.5 million after inflation, according to Freitag.

Flores said he could not give a deadline for when the company will respond to the request.

The city plans to meet with officials of GM at the end of March for an update on the sale of the property.