Air Force makes use of GM plant
Ex-Car Factory Reborn as Maintenance FacilityPublished: Sunday, April 26, 2009 7:00 am By: Steve Lackmeyer
The old General Motors plant in southeast Oklahoma City is looking less and less like a car factory as the Air Force proceeds with its conversion of the property into a maintenance facility.
Just months after General Motors announced it was closing the plant, Oklahoma County voters approved a $55 million bond issue to buy the property and lease it back to the Air Force for $1 a year.
The Air Force, in turn, is retrofitting the plant and using it to replace aging maintenance buildings, some of which don't even have air conditioning.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett is among those monitoring the project's outcome.
"It's too early to know how successful it will ultimately be," Cornett said. "But the officials at Tinker are enthused, the Pentagon is impressed, and it helps solidify our relationship with the most important economic driver we have."
The redubbed Tinker Aerospace Complex is envisioned as being more than just an extension of Tinker Air Force Base - it's also seen as generator of new jobs to be brought in by companies seeking to be partners with the Air Force.
"It doesn't look much like it did when we came in," said Jeff Catron, program manager at the Tinker Aerospace Complex. "Good progress is being made. We're planning to bring in the first shop, the engine shop, this summer."
Catron said demolition is complete and crews are installing infrastructure for engine overhaul work. Gone are the steel girders that hung from the ceiling and the slides that pushed the cars through the plant starting with the Chevrolet Citations in 1979.
Floor trenches spanning 10 feet by 70 yards are being filled and central utilities are being brought back on-line.
Robin Roberts Krieger, executive vice president of economic development with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said she anticipates much of the metal being hauled out will be sold to off-set the project's cost.
"GM left a whole lot of stuff behind," Robert Krieger said. "Drive by the plant and there is a mountain of metal lying outside."
She said the chamber hosted two briefings in October and November with companies interested in entering into partnerships with the Air Force at the plant.
"We walked through who could and couldn't go through the building and what the process would be," Roberts Krieger said. "Several companies qualified to come in and go into a partnership with the military. What we're talking about are new operations ... we anticipate the outcome will result in new jobs."
Catron hopes to have 650 Air Force employees in the plant by the end of the year. Accommodations will include a new break room, convenience store and food services. He anticipates workers in the sheet metal division will be most excited about the move - they've been working in facilities without air conditioning during hot Oklahoma summers.
"We've brought the first group of folks to come over and they've toured their new location," Catron said. "They're very excited."