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Auto Parkit foresees lifting ’21

CEO says projects were delayed, not canceled, due to COVID-19

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Warren native Christopher Alan, CEO of California-based Dasher Lawless and Auto Parkit, talks Tuesday inside the former Delphi plant on Dana Street NE that will become the company’s test facility for its fully automated parking system. Behind Alan is a lift pit that recently was installed to accommodate the two-level system.

WARREN — The California-based firm slowly, but steadily transforming busted and broken-down buildings on the north end into a manufacturing hub for its fully automated parking system wasn’t spared from harm by the viral pandemic.

Dasher Lawless and its Auto Parkit division had $39 million in projects for this year in the pipeline on March 7. A week later they had none, but the saving grace: The projects were postponed, not canceled.

It’s that distinction that has CEO Christopher Alan predicting 2021 will be a good year for the company that designs and builds the garages mostly in large metro areas.

“At first, when this whole thing hit, I was angry about it, and then I had a number of friends who are very successful guys who had gone out of business, bankrupt,” Alan said. “Now I realize as hard as it has been, I am one of the lucky ones. We’ve got great technology, we’ve got something that nobody else has, so we’ve managed to make it through.

“That $39 million worth of work, none of it (was) canceled, it’s just pushed to this coming year and then we have the new project we just signed in Texas. We just signed a new project in Long Beach (California), a new project in Detroit … a new project in Chicago, so things are starting to come back,” Alan said. “We won’t really see those dollars until next year, but next year looks like it will be fantastic.”

The project in Detroit isn’t far from one Auto Parkit already has underway at the former Detroit Free Press building for Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. It’s part of a $75 million renovation of the historic building.

Meanwhile, the project in Frisco, Texas, is a $100 million deal. Construction that’s expected to take 36 months will start at the end of 2021, Alan said.

The Warren native Tuesday gave a breeze- thru tour to city officials of his structures on Dana Street NE, the former Delphi and GE plants that are being developed into manufacturing space and engineering offices for the company. Some of that work already is happening as renovations continue.

What Alan sees eventually becoming a campus is on 42 acres with just less than 1 million square feet of building space under roof. About 30,000 square feet of roof has been replaced.

“It’s a big project. It takes time, it takes a lot of money, so we are doing it as we need it,” Alan said.

He predicts the compound will be complete within six years with an investment of $40 million. Already, the company has spent about $6 million on improvements, from removing unwanted items to renovations to ready the space for expanded manufacturing.

Valley Economic Development Partners, the former Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corporation, is working to return rail access to the former Delphi facility, which will contain Auto Parkit’s test facility.

The test facility recently had a lift pit installed with all new drains and power in the building that by next summer will contain a fully automated parking system for testing to commission the equipment. It will be a two-level system with a chain lift and a cable lift.

Alan also highlighted an innovation to save money on property development as electric vehicles become more widespread. He used a structure on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles that contains about 400 electric vehicles, but just 18 charging stations.

The key is the pallet that holds the car contains a plug.

“Our technology, we can communicate with the car, we know when it’s charged, we can cycle that car out and put in the next car that is waiting for it, automatically, and so throughout the night we can charge all 400 cars with only 18 chargers,” Alan said. “That is more than $20 million in savings in infrastructure in that high rise.”

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