Motorola uses ads to entice bids for plant

For sale: Giant corporate campus with manufacturing, distribution and office space. Gently-used facility in move-in condition.

Bargain price. Motivated seller taking all reasonable offers.

With the 1.5 million-square-foot Motorola plant in Harvard appearing in ads in The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, interest in the now-defunct facility has been "very good," said the broker fielding calls for its upcoming auction.

"I'd be surprised if there wasn't over 100 different inquiries," said Guy Ponticiello, managing director for Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., one of the world's largest real-estate companies.

The No. 2 cell-phone maker hired Jones Lang LaSalle in August to put its vacant Route 14 campus on the block, and the firm aggressively has been marketing the plant through print ads and direct mail to high-tech and manufacturing companies, Fortune 1000 corporations, and real-estate investors.

Jones Lang LaSalle will take sealed bids for the property until Tuesday, when it will open them and either determine a winner, seek final offers from top bidders, or reject them all if Motorola is not satisfied, Ponticiello said.

Inquiries have ranged from information requests about the region's workforce to visits from corporate big shots, said Karen Patel, president of McHenry County Economic Development Corporation. She said she took the chief executive of an "extremely large, multimillion-dollar enterprise" on a show-and-tell tour of the area earlier this month.

"Over the last couple of weeks, there's definitely been an increase of inquiries in the overall region of the county and that building in particular," Patel said.

Built for $100 million in 1997, the Harvard factory employed 5,000 workers at its peak during the technology boom of the late 1990s. The state of Illinois contributed $30 million for infrastructure around the plant.

After massive layoffs, the last worker left in March 2003 and the shuttered plant now is worth $30 million, according to the McHenry County property-tax rolls.

Motorola officials have said they wanted to sell the plant by the end of the year.

"The plant in Harvard is an albatross around their neck, and they can't get rid of it," said Frank Olesuk, investment advisor with SunAmerica Securities Inc. "Comments have been made that whoever gets that is going to get a bargain, and that's probably true."

Motorola announced a banner third quarter this week; the company tripled its earnings compared with last year and its cell-phone market share is creeping up, so some analysts think that the company is better able to unload the vacant facility, even if it takes a loss.

"When you look at their profitability, now is a good time to absorb that kind of write-off," said Tom Rowen, vice president and senior portfolio manager for Fifth Third Bank Chicago.

But Motorola just wants to avoid the ongoing operating costs for the facility, company spokeswoman Juli Burda said. This year, the company paid $566,475 in property taxes alone, records show.

Motorola's previous deal with developer Joe Buralli, who hoped to transform the wireless phone distribution center into an indoor water park, fell through a year ago. Local officials are hopeful that the auction will bring a new corporate presence to the region.

"We're hoping that this will bring a buyer, not just a speculator, as a useful business and Harvard will gain from it," Mayor Jay Nolan said.


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