Lexington auto supplier looking to lease part of location

Automotive supplier Webasto has consolidated its two plants in Lexington into one and hopes to lease out the unused one until the economy improves.

The company, which makes sunroofs for vehicles, will maintain the larger of its two facilities, which was built in the early part of this decade, said Andreas Weller, vice president of business development.

Both plants are at 2201 Innovation Drive, off Georgetown Road.

Weller said the recession, which hammered automotive sales, has forced the company to "adjust our cost base to this new volume."

"Given the volume reductions, we determined that we did not need all the capacity and floor space currently and therefore saw a need to consolidate the two facilities into one," Weller said.

Webasto has reduced employment in Lexington over the past year and a half, he said, but remains with 540 workers at the site. It has cut back across its operations, moves that also included closing a plant in Murray.

Germany-based Webasto's Lexington operations has the largest number of workers of any of its North American plants, though another plant is larger in terms of space, according to the company's Web site.

The local consolidation has been completed, Weller said.

"It all happened relatively quickly," he said. "Most of the activities occurred between early July and through September."

The company has contracted with the commercial real estate firm Coleman Group to market the property, which includes 16,000 square feet of office space and about 86,000 square feet of warehouse space.

"The goal is to find someone to fill in that space until business picks up, and they can ramp up manufacturing again," said Bob Cole, president of Coleman Group. "Their desire is not to sell."

Cole said the lease would ideally be for two to five years, but that if a tenant wanted to stay longer "Webasto was willing to consider a longer term."

Weller said that plan will help keep Webasto's "options open."

"When the economy hopefully improves and auto sales significantly improve again, we may need the additional space," he said.

Cole said last week that he's already shown the property three times in the past few weeks.

"That bodes well for the local economy because that means there are companies growing, expanding and looking for space," he said.

Webasto's decision to lease the property won't imperil any of the lucrative government incentives it received for locating in Lexington.

State officials said the company still maintains far more than the 200-plus jobs required for it to continue to benefit from tax incentives.

The company was approved for $6 million in incentives when it first located to Lexington more than a decade ago. It also received approval for $300,000 in economic development bonds and $2.5 million in tax incentives within the past decade, according to the state Cabinet for Economic Development.