Disassembly Line

The unbuilding of an auto plant
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Click the image above to view the full map
Artist rendering by Bryan Christie

If you’ve flown into At­lan­ta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, you’ve probably seen the old Ford plant at Hapeville, just northeast of the airfield, bounded by a ribbon of rail tracks on one side and I-75 on another. It extends across 122 acres, and sits so close to the airport that flight-path lights once covered the roof of the massive main assembly plant.

The plant opened in 1947. Ford closed it in October 2006, the second of 14 closures announced earlier that year. Some 2,000 workers lost their jobs as a result of the closing; 500 of them accepted transfers to other plants, the rest took severance. The city of Hapeville, with just 6,000 residents, lost its largest source of municipal revenue.

Closing an auto plant is neither quick nor simple, and for a time, the very process of closure creates its own small economy; ultimately, closures can make way for new beginnings. Immediately after the Hapeville plant was formally idled, about 250 workers returned to begin deconstructing the site; more than two years later, demolition and environmental cleanup are still continuing. Last June, the site was bought for roughly $40 million by the Jacoby Group, which plans to build a mixed-use development there, eventually creating thousands of jobs.

The Hapeville plant’s location is more desirable than that of most auto plants; some factories sit empty for many years after closure, for want of a buyer. Still, the plant’s redevelopment is not unique. This annotated map shows the complexity and effort involved in unbuilding such a plant, and offers a best-case scenario for renewal.

Don Peck is an Atlantic deputy managing editor.
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