* Since last year, a small group of local citizens has been fighting Navistar’s plans to build a corporate headquarters in Lisle and bring 4,000 jobs to the site. They’ve forced the town to hold large numbers of hours-long zoning hearings on the matter, they forced subpoenas to be issued and depositions to be taken, threatened lawsuits and recently filed suit to restart the excruciating hearing process all over again. Lisle has spent $200,000 on the process.
Navistar scaled back its plans in March, but that didn’t satisfy the opponents and now the company has thrown in the towel…
Navistar officials said Wednesday the company is no longer interested in moving its international headquarters to Lisle.
The announcement took many by surprise, and prompted a flurry of activity, including an attempt by Gov. Pat Quinn to step in. Business leaders and county policymakers were quick to condemn a vocal few for thwarting the plan.
Stung by what they called unfair criticism that was sullying the engine-building giant’s reputation, Navistar will begin looking for other sites, possibly but not necessarily in Illinois, said Don Sharp, Navistar’s vice president of communications.
“We certainly never signed up for our company to be put on trial by a small group of people opposing economic development,” Sharp said. “In our view, we are being put on trial for things simply beyond zoning issues.”
* But the opponents are still unmoved…
Rich Wilkie, another neighbor who spoke against the proposed plans repeatedly, is skeptical that the company is really walking away.
“All Navistar has said is that they will be stepping back from the zoning hearings and revisiting other locations that they previously considered,” he said. “It could very well be a strong-arm tactic to cause backlash to those who oppose elements of their proposal.”
He reiterated his wish to have Navistar put in writing the assurances it has made in public meetings.
“Many public officials were subpoenaed for these hearings, in an effort to get at the truth and determine what has gone on in the back rooms,” Wilkie said. “There is no question that Navistar has the zoning board and village board votes to get the deal done, so there are other forces at work here. The public should not be so quick to play into their hands and condemn this as a bad thing. There is a lot more to this story.”
* Indiana is now working hard to woo the company to Fort Wayne…
The cost of running a combined operation in Fort Wayne would be about $33 million less annually than the cost of doing it in Lisle, according to an Ernst & Young 2009 comparison study commissioned by Navistar. The economics are in Fort Wayne’s favor, Udris said.
* This all started because parents of children attending a nearby school for autistic children were worried about about the company’s plans to build a diesel engine testing facility on-site. It snowballed into something bigger and Navistar couldn’t stop the opposition even after addressing the parents’ concerns.
What a mess this is.