Residents press FCA on Detroit plant expansion

Candice Williams
The Detroit News
Fiat Chrysler's Mack Avenue Engine plant in Detroit will see $1.6 billion in new investment as part of FCA's expansion plans in the city.

Detroit — Community members who packed a UAW hall on Wednesday evening to hear from the city and Fiat Chrysler leaders about the automaker's plans to expand its Mack Avenue facilities had key questions: How will it affect the neighborhood and how will it help.

They learned details about the expansion, including how FCA plans to have a hiring center accessible to the community with kiosks for applying for jobs.

The $1.6 billion to convert the two plants that comprise the Mack Avenue Engine Complex on the city's east side is expected to add 3,850 jobs; the $900 million investment in the Jefferson North Assembly Plant on Conner Street will bring 1,100 jobs. 

Ron Stallworth, external affairs for FCA.

Ron Stallworth, who works in external affairs for FCA, said he expects partnerships with local education institutions such as Southeastern High School and Wayne County Community College District. 

“My wish is that everyone of those 4,950 would be Detroit residents,” Stallworth said. “That would be fantastic. If that doesn’t happen we have to work toward getting more people in the area in the city in that plant.”

The gathering at the UAW Hall at 2600 Conner in Detroit was the first meeting required under the city's Community Benefits Ordinance since FCA announced it's plans. Another meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the same hall.

Tanieca Amison, whose parents live on Fairview within the affected area, had questions about the affect on the daily lives residents.

"You're going to inconvenience these people," she said. "What is it you're going to do? Traffic, environmental and the list goes on. What is the upside?"

To keep the community informed and part of the expansion, a Neighborhood Advisory Council of residents from the area will be formed to develop a community benefits agreement, according to the city. Because of the project's price tag and the expectation of a land sale and tax incentives, the development triggers the CBO requirement.

City officials said the project wasn’t a done deal. Following the CBO process, the deal goes before the Detroit City Council for approval, and residents were encouraged to sit on the Neighborhood Advisory Council. 

A rendering of the planned Mack Avenue Assembly Complex.

“We have some idea of what we need to bake,” said Vince Keenan, major projects manager for the city's Department of Neighborhoods. “It will not be baked and finished with the sprinkles on the top until the community signs off on it.”

Leaders announced the expansion plans last month. .

UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who was at the meeting, said the union wants existing temporary workers to be hired first for the new full-time positions. That would leave about 2,000 jobs for individuals not already in the industry.

Starting pay is $17 for full time production workers and $34.72 for skilled trades workers, according to FCA.

“This is a union town,” Estrada said. “These are going to be union jobs … This is the proposal that’s here now and what we have. I have a commitment with Chrysler to make sure we have an ongoing relationship.”

The deal hinges on the city's ability to acquire 200 acres of land for the development. According to a memorandum of understanding between the city and the automaker, the city has until April 27 to acquire the land. The city has said land use will include employee parking, trailer marshalling and storage for finished vehicles.

About 50 acres of the site will come from the closure of St. Jean Street from E. Warren to Mack and from Mack to Kercheval. Mack will remain open.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN