Closed GM plant seen as opportunity for Tinker

Published: Friday, June 19, 2009 7:00 am By: Heather Caliendo

The Journal Record

Sitting adjacent to Tinker Air Force Base, the former General Motors plant is now the Tinker Aerospace Complex.

Oklahoma County purchased the 430-acre property, and last September county commissioners signed the property lease to the Air Force.

"This is how as an economic development professional you can work with partners and create an opportunity out of a difficult situation," said Robin Roberts-Krieger, executive vice president of economic development for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

In 2005, during Thanksgiving week, GM announced the closure of the Oklahoma City facility.

When it officially closed in February, Roberts-Krieger said the chamber began to look into other options for the facility.

With the facility's location on Tinker's fence line, she said they immediately decided the space should be used in some way for the aerospace industry.

About 27,000 employees work at Tinker Air Force Base. With people from 44 counties commuting to the base, the GM plant became a statewide issue.

GM officials suggested that the old facility could be turned into a golf course or a big-box retail center.

"Mayor Cornett rolled out the map, and said 'See where this sits? See this Air Force base? We won't rezone it; don't even ask,'" said Roberts-Krieger. "Otherwise this would have become a problem for Tinker."

After several years of discussion, Tinker leadership talked to Pentagon officials and the ball began moving, said Roberts-Krieger.

Once it was decided the facility could be used to enhance Tinker's work, the focus turned to financing.

Tinker is one of three air depots in the nation that do a lot of the maintenance, repair and overhaul work for the Air Force. But Roberts-Krieger said there wasn't enough money in the federal budget to support acquiring and improving the facility.

When it became apparent that the federal government wouldn't pay for it, they began to consider statewide, regional and local finance options.

"We all believed we could make it if we can work together," said Roberts-Krieger. "With the size of the work force of Tinker and all the maintenance, repair and manufacturing work that goes on, there was a lot of work that could be done at an additional facility."

So Roberts-Krieger said they explored a bond issue, but it was pushed back several times.

Finally, in May 2008, Oklahoma County voters passed a $54 million bond issue to allow county officials to purchase the real estate.

The state Legislature then agreed to provide $10 million, which reduced the bonds to $44 million.

Roberts-Krieger said timing was everything; the bonds were sold Aug. 14, just two weeks before the stock market collapsed. Had they waited, the deal might have been jeopardized.

The Air Force signed a 50-year lease Oct. 30 with an

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