Navistar gives up plan to open Lisle HQ

May 26, 2010 (LISLE, Ill.)

Navistar says some residents who opposed the plan to relocate in Lisle are jeopardizing the company's image, so it is going elsewhere. Navistar says the plan would have brought jobs to the area. But other residents thought it would create pollution, noise and traffic problems.

This is a complicated story that doesn't simply boil down to a big industrial company giving in to residents who don't want development in their backyard. Navistar wanted to consolidate most of its operations in Lisle and build a new research and development facility -- laudable goals even for the community -- it is just that they didn't trust the company to leave it at that.

The century-old company known the world over for its industrial engines and vehicles says 7,000 direct and indirect jobs are not going to be protected or created now that it is abandoning its plans to move to a vacant office space, the 1.2-million-square-feet of the old Alcatel-Lucent campus in Lisle, three miles east of the current headquarters in Warrenville.

"It has evolved into a trial of Navistar, more importantly a trial of its supporters, and that is not something we signed up for and that our supporters signed up for," said Don Sharp, Navistar CIO.

It was supposed to be a world HQ for a company with deep Midwestern roots where engineers from company sites in Schaumberg, Downers Grove and Warrenville would work together. Navistar scaled back original plans for a robust testing facility for their diesel engines -- but wouldn't rule out future expansion.

"Really, what we are asking for is put it in writing, that what you are going to bring in here is going to stay that way," said Tom Stefely.

Stefely was part of Citizens for Healthy Development, a community organization of residents living adjacent to the proposed site. They used Lisle's planning and zoning processes to cast doubt on the wisdom of locating an operation with an industrial edge in their backyard, to the point where the company figured it was better to quit.

In a letter to the Village of Lisle Wednesday, the company said, "As this is jeopardizing our image and that of many innocent people who have advocated for us, we will no longer be participating in the planning and zoning commission process."

It was a plan that, after revisions, even had the backing of a nearby school for children with autism who were concerned about noise and emissions.

"The problem with the revised plan is it is not subject to a permanent sense of comfort. Navistar would not agree to commitments with the neighbors," said attorney Mark Daniel.

"This site is perfect for what they want to do," said Lisle Mayor Joe Baroda.

The company originally was going to have over 60 diesel engine testing stations on site, and that was reduced to six in the revised plan. Still, opponents say those run 24/7 and the plant would throw more emissions into the air than is currently allowed.

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