[caption id="attachment_225489" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Douglas Development has acquired the former Clarios manufacturing plant in Middletown and aims to reposition it to warehouse/distribution. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS
MIDDLETOWN – Nearly two years after the automotive battery assembly plant was closed, a Washington, D.C.-based developer has acquired the former Clarios plant with plans to reinvigorate the Middletown site.
Douglas Development acquired the 275,000-square-foot plant located at 700 N. Broad St. from Clarios for $6.75 million earlier this month, according to county land records.
Clarios, the world’s largest supplier of automotive batteries that was formerly known as Johnson Controls, closed the plant in the fall of 2020, citing a desire to streamline its manufacturing network. The Delaware assembly plant produced millions of after-market lead-acid car battery “cores” each year, which were then filled with electrolyte and tested at the company’s distribution center in Middletown. Upon completion, the batteries end up in automotive retail stores.
In order to stay competitive though, Clarios has begun branching out into two segments that diverged from the Middletown plant’s focus, including a part of the lead-acid battery market known as absorbent glass mat (AGM), which is usefully for commercial vehicles, and lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.
The decision to shutter the Middletown plant came less than three years after it completed a $43 million expansion of the facility, upgrading equipment and building an addition to the facility that dates to 1940. More than 200 employees were affected by the closure.
The future of the site now lies with Douglas Development, a firm that has a portfolio full of office, residential and retail assets but only a few industrial ones. In 2019, it acquired the PNC Bank Center in downtown Wilmington, and has since increased its occupancy level.
Norman Jemal, managing principal of Douglas Development, told Delaware Business Times that his firm was excited about the booming Middletown market right now.
“It's a very well-located property. Middletown has a lot of good things going for it, and we felt it was a good opportunity,” he said. “It's got a lot of yard space and we intend to divide it up into smaller warehousing.”
The more than 16-acre parcel is zoned by the town as manufacturing industrial (M-I), which limits potential usages primarily to warehousing/distribution and light manufacturing. It’s a rare piece of M-I zoned land left north of Route 299 in Middletown, as the majority of that space has moved south near the Amazon fulfillment center off Merrimac Avenue.
Should the Clarios plant be turned into warehousing, it would join a boom of such distribution and logistics space in the pipeline for Middletown. While the 1 million-square-foot Amazon center started the trend about a decade ago, there are now several million more square feet of warehousing proposed in a handful of projects off U.S. Route 301 and Route 896.