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DALLAS-Benton Harbor, MI-based Whirlpool Corp. has hired Panattoni Development Corp. to build 8.5 million sf of industrial space in seven cities. Code-named Project Zenith, the plan includes two 750,000-sf buildings for Dallas/Fort Worth.

Whirlpool’s executives also are working with a Jones Lang LaSalle team in Chicago to map out the distribution center rollout. Dealmakers aren’t yet ready to discuss the work-in-progress, but have confirmed Project Zenith is a real deal for seven US cities. Local sources say the Dallas/Fort Worth buildings are to be on line by March 2008, but the location decision has yet to be settled.

Whirlpool has been in the midst of an obvious shuffle, selling and doing a short-term lease in Fort Worth and leasing a build-to-suit in Obetz, OH. The activity took place in sync with an October announcement by Whirlpool North America president David L. Swift that series of changes are in the offing for its North American manufacturing facilities. The Ohio-based laundry manufacturing operations in Clyde and Marion are being expanded as is the Amana, IA plant, which makes bottom-freezer refrigeration products. Also on the early 2007 construction docket is the expansion of a manufacturing facility in Ramos, Arizpe, Mexico, which will trigger a 400-job layoff by midyear 2008 at Whirlpool’s Fort Smith, AR plant. In recent months, the Arkansas plant lost 940 jobs to the Mexico facility. The company says it also will “adjust production levels” at the Evansville, IN top-freezer factory in 2007, where 500 employees are slated for layoff.

Whirlpool occupies nearly 51.7 million sf of industrial and office space in the US, of which more than 21 million sf is leased, according to Internet research. Project Zenith is being underwritten with a take-out plan. Sources say an institutional investor already is in hand for immediate sale-leasebacks as Project Zenith buildings come on line.

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