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GM to be gone from Proving Ground by June 30

GM to be gone from Proving Ground by June 30

By Ed Taylor / The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.  |   Wednesday, May 20, 2009  |  |  Automotive

More than 55 years of work at the General Motors Desert Proving Ground in east Mesa is winding down, and the automaker plans to officially close up shop on June 30.

"We are done testing," said GM spokesman Jerry Wilson. "We’re just moving right now, moving equipment and people."

GM’s new $100 million proving ground near Yuma, where the automaker is relocating its desert testing work, began operating this week and will open to visitors on June 1, he said.

"The garage is completed in Yuma, and some of the roads are completed," Wilson said.

Only about a half-dozen GM employees remain in Mesa, down from nearly 1,000 at its peak in the 1990s when the automaker conducted extensive track and lab work there on new vehicles.

Although GM has finished its work in Mesa, Harley Davidson is still conducting tests on motorcycles with about 50 technicians, Wilson said. Harley Davidson, which has leased access to GM’s Mesa test tracks for about 10 years, will move out on June 12 and will relocate to a test site near Kingman, he said.

GM announced in 2000 that it planned to close the Desert Proving Ground, 13303 S. Ellsworth Road. But the closing was delayed because of difficulty finding a replacement site. Eventually the company did find a location for hot weather testing in Mexico, but the company decided to keep the Mesa operation going at a reduced level.

Finally in 2006, with Valley real estate values soaring, the company definitely decided to close the Mesa proving ground, sell the property and move to a leased site at the U.S. Army’s proving ground in Yuma.

GM sold 1,800 acres on the south side of the Mesa property to Pacific Proving of Phoenix and the north 3,200 acres to DMB Associates of Scottsdale.

DMB has announced plans to redevelop some of its portion for a Gaylord Entertainment hotel and convention complex.

Although the proving ground and the nearby Williams Air Force Base had huge economic impacts on the East Valley, the projects that replace them will be even more significant, said Robert Brinton, director of the Mesa Convention and Visitors Bureau.

At its height, the proving ground generated 50,000 hotel room nights in Mesa each year, he said. But the Gaylord project could create 100,000 hotel room nights annually from conventions at the resort, he said.

"We’re very fortunate that we had such economic forces as the GM Proving Ground and the (Williams) Air Force base," he said. "But everything evolves." Brinton said the East Valley also was fortunate the GM closing took so long, because that gave time to plan the future of the area.

"It was a gradual progression, so we didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly see a huge void," he said.

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