Mercedes-Benz Vans permit document shows 3 expansions possible for North Charleston

Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, announced the German automaker’s $500 million expansion in North Charleston in March 2015.

The Mercedes-Benz Vans plant under construction in North Charleston could be the first phase of at least three expansions depending on whether the U.S. market for its boxy vehicles continues to grow, according to a permit application filed with the Army Corps of Engineers.

The application to fill about 18 acres of wetlands at the company’s site in Palmetto Commerce Park also provides new details about plans to build a $500 million manufacturing facility to make the popular Sprinter vans, with the first phase scheduled for completion in 2018.

In addition to a revamped assembly facility, which will become a full-fledged manufacturing plant rather than a reassembly site, Mercedes-Benz previously announced plans to build a new paint shop and body shop at 8501 Palmetto Commerce Parkway.

Alyssa Hasell, spokeswoman for Mercedes-Benz Vans, said the Army Corps permit “allows for flexibility for future site growth.”

Newly revealed plans, some of which will be market-driven and could be built in phases over up to 20 years, include:

A storage facility for painted vans called the “Karoloa” building. The storage is needed because the painting will outpace final assembly.

A vehicle storage area where up to 33 finished vehicles will be placed before being moved to the marshalling yard, a staging area for finished vans. The 2,700 stalls available in the marshalling yard represents 10 days’ worth of production when the plant is running at full capacity.

A trailer/empties yard to handle the projected 155 cargo containers that will be delivered to the facility each day at full production.

A power substation and energy center where transformers will convert transmission-level power supplied by South Carolina Electric & Gas to levels the automaker will need for production. Power will be routed from the substation directly to the energy center, where it will then be dispersed onsite.

New administrative offices and an employee parking lot to handle the 3,000 workers that will be added to the operation once full production begins. Based on the number of employees and overlapping work shifts, a minimum of 2,205 parking spaces will be needed to meet North Charleston building requirements.

The permit application seeks permission to fill wetlands associated with Bluehouse Swamp so construction can take place. Mercedes-Benz Vans is offering to buy at least 200 acres’ worth of credits in a mitigation bank to compensate for the lost wetlands.

Mercedes-Benz Vans reported record sales for 2015 and expects further expansion this year. Of the 194,200 Sprinters sold worldwide last year, 28,600 were delivered in the United States. Sales in the U.S. were up 11 percent in 2015 compared with the previous year.

The vans are used by a variety of major companies for transport and delivery, including FedEx and many major resorts and hotels.

In addition to the Sprinter, Mercedes-Benz plans to assemble the midsize Metris van in North Charleston.

SafeRack, which makes fall-protection equipment such as loading platforms and ramps, has received a $15 million grant from Rural Development Partners as part of a financing package for expansion of its Andrews manufacturing site. The grant is part of SunTrust Community Capital’s new markets tax credit program.

“SafeRack’s expansion will greatly benefit Andrews, and SunTrust Community Capital is pleased to have a role in financing the deal,” said Steve Ross, SunTrust’s spokesman for the tax credit program.

The project is in a distressed census tract with stagnant job growth. SafeRack’s expansion will create more than 100 full-time jobs in precision welding, laser cutting, robotics and assembly technologies.

All told, the expansion will cost $21.2 million. SafeRack, founded in 2003 by Rob Honeycutt and Fred Harmon, now has customers in more than 50 countries and has seen a 500 percent increase in sales since 2010. Its Atlatl Software division opened an office about 18 months ago at 174 Meeting St. in downtown Charleston.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_