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Normal Planning Commission recommends Rivian plant addition

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Michele Steinbacher
/
WGLT
Rivian Production Design Manager Brett Jones appears at the Normal Planning Commission's public hearing Thursday on an amended site plan for the electric automaker's Normal plant.

Electric automaker Rivian easily gained the Normal Planning Commission’s recommendation Thursday for its latest site plan which calls for a 623,000-square-foot addition to the plant's southwest side.

The matter now heads to Normal Town Council; it's expected to vote on the recommendation Nov. 15.

If approved, the new construction would bring Rivian’s building footprint to nearly 4 million square feet. In only a few years, the company has become a leading local employer, and a giant presence in the Bloomington-Normal community — especially with the 2021 start of production of its cutting-edge electric pickup truck.

Industry experts say the company, which will make electric trucks, SUVs and vans at the Normal site could be valued at more than $50 billion in its initial public offering (IPO), expected this month.

Brett Jones, Rivian production design manager, said he’s confident the council will approve the revisions because the automaker isn’t the only one who wins with the plan's approval.

“It creates a number of jobs and opportunities for the people of this community, as well,” he said after the planning commission meeting.

Jones says the expansion would further improve Rivian’s vehicle line -- with electric drive units, and more space for its battery assembly shop.

Following a mere five-minute public hearing on the matter, which had very little discussion among its members, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the amended plan. That proposal also calls for additional lighting and a sign package for its Normal site.

In 2017, Rivian purchased the 2.6 million square-foot Normal facility — formerly home to Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing of America. Initially, Rivian demolished several old pieces of equipment and lines, leaving the facility at roughly 2.4 million square feet, according to Rivian's Zach Dietmeier. The electric automaker has made several additions since then, he said, bringing it to its current size of 3.2 million square feet.

Most recently in May, the town approved additions to the plant's east and northeast sides totaling about 96,000 square feet, as well as a 60,000-square-foot charging canopy. Normal town planner Mercy Davison noted Thursday, however, that an approved access point on College Avenue has not yet begun construction.

In July 2020, the company also had added about 576,000 square feet.

Davison said if the Normal Town Council OKs the latest proposed expansion, Rivian's building footprint will total about 3.7 million square feet.

At Thursday’s hearing, only one public commenter spoke — Mike Raikes, president of McLean County Building and Construction Trades Council. Raikes praised Rivian as a good partner that has brought work to the area's tradesmen and tradeswomen. The group wants Normal to approve the amended site plan, as the growth represents more construction jobs.

The proposed addition would eliminate about 220 parking spaces on Rivian’s west side. But Davison told the commission that it would be resolved by Rivian shuttling employees from a northern parking lot.

As for the sign variances, Davison sees no problem. The town's standard size limits for signs are six feet high, and six feet wide. But, she said for a site as large as Rivian, and because the signs are intended for within its property, town leaders think the larger signs are OK.

“We support the variances they need,” she said, noting the company qualifies for up to 15,000 square feet of signage, but is asking for much less. The company is asking for about 10% of signage permitted for the 510-acre site, according to the town's materials about requested changes.

Commission member Bob Broad said the signs Rivian is requesting seem appropriate, and because they’d be contained to the Rivian property, they'd have no impact on the general public.

This marked the first meeting for new commission members Jay Tummala and Andy Byars. The Normal Town Council OK’d their appointments at its Oct. 18 meeting.

As a matter of disclosure, WGLT general manager R.C. McBride also is a member of the commission.

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