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Posted on Tue, Apr 23, 2013 : 7:24 p.m.

Demolition of Willow Run Powertrain facility now on the table

By Amy Biolchini


The B-24 bombers were produced there by Ford Motor company from roughly mid-1942 until mid-1945 — when this picture was taken.

Taken by Ford Motor Company and property of Yankee Air Museum

RACER Trust says demolition is now a redevelopment option for GM’s former 5-million-square-foot Willow Run Powertrain Plant it owns in Ypsilanti Township.

The update to the trust’s strategy comes after stakeholder forums in December and February that forced the trust to re-evaluate the way it was marketing the property, said Bruce Rasher, redevelopment manager for RACER.

“In combination with the unsatisfactory results that our marketing has produced … it caused the trust to reevaluate whether we could market the site without the building,” Rasher said. “We were told unequivocally by the market that the real opportunity at this site relies on capitalizing on the amenities the site has to offer and not on the building … The building is an impediment to redevelopment on the site.”

The building was assessed at $16,284,900, making its market value more than $32 million, according to the property's marketing brochure.

Part of the former GM Powertrain plant contains the Willow Run Bomber Plant which turned out B-24 Liberator bombers during World War II. It’s adjacent to the runway at the Willow Run Airport.

The Yankee Air Museum has launched a $6 million campaign to buy the bomber plant — a 175,000-square-foot piece of the overall Powertrain property. Its operations now are in a 47,000-square-foot facility on the east side of Willow Run Airport.

80544-08 v2.jpg

The B-24 bombers were produced by Ford Motor Company between mid-1942 until mid-1945.

Taken by Ford Motor Company and property of Yankee Air Museum

Should the museum raise the money, its purchase agreement would be for a total of 840,000 square feet of property at the site from RACER that would include a 700-space parking lot.

Dennis Norton, founder and first president of the museum, told Tuesday if the campaign is not able to raise the money by Aug. 1, the bomber plant portion of the facility also could be at risk for demolition.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and no one will get to see it or hear the stories from it again,” Norton said Tuesday.

RACER Trust, or the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, is the authority formed in the wake of GM’s bankruptcy in 2010 to market 89 GM holdings across the country - including those in Ypsilanti Township.

RACER has been marketing parts of the property separately as:

“We have approached the marketing up to this point as seeking a user of the existing building,” Rasher said. “The building was an important capital asset for the region. … We were seeking users to occupy the space.”

The former Powertrain Plant location has “significant economic development opportunities,” Rasher said, including its proximity to rail and highway routes, airports, the U.S.-Canada border crossing and the University of Michigan.

However, Rasher said Tuesday evening RACER Trust has not received one offer from a user that would use the entire 5 million square feet in the Powertrain facility.

The message to offer the development land up to the market and not the 5-million-square-foot building from key players at the December and February forums “wasn’t just a subtle message to the trust; it was very loud and clear,” Rasher said.

Among representatives at the forums were elected officials from Ypsilanti Township and Washtenaw County. Personal property tax revenue from the GM Powertrain Plant declined after RACER Trust sold the machines from inside the building, and the property's value as a whole has sagged.

Ypsilanti Township saw a 2.53 percent decrease in taxable value from 2012 to 2013, according to Washtenaw County's 2013 Equalization Report. The county as a whole saw an increase in taxable value.


The B-24 bombers between mid-1942 until mid-1945.

Taken by Ford Motor Company and property of Yankee Air Museum

Rasher said he knows the township would like to see development on the GM Powertrain site. RACER Trust is in “active discussions” with one developer for the property, Rasher said Tuesday -- an update from the "several companies" RACER Trust reported being in active discussions with at the end of March.

“They’re showing a lot of promise,” Rasher said of the prospective developer. “But we feel it’s the responsibility of the trust and to the community that we’re seeking out as many proposals that will come our way. … We will likely go out to the market and seek more proposals in the current future.”

There’s a concern that a company would demolish the GM Powertrain Plant, sell the materials for scrap and then leave the property undeveloped and abandoned, Rasher said.

Developers must meet a list of six criteria in order for RACER Trust to make a sale. The trust is committed to funding the cost of environmental cleanup of the site, even after it transfers out of their ownership.

Rasher said RACER Trust is committed to vetting developers to make sure they have the financial capital to market and fully redevelop the property to create jobs.

“Because our mission is to create jobs at these facilities, if we were to sell to a buyer that did not have the capability to do that, that would be a significant cost to the community,” Rasher said. “We need a qualified buyer.”

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Fri, Apr 26, 2013 : 8:26 p.m.

Is it possible that the YAF is considering moving a portion of the old operation to the east side or are they only considering replanting themselves in the middle of the tradeport?

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 12:39 p.m.

It is interesting to read this as perspective for the other story you are publishing today on the Willow Run Plant.


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 3:41 p.m.

It sounds like if the site is desirable, it is only so without the building(s) and the cost of purchasing them. If the buildings are torn down, than the price will certainly be dropped. I hope they know what they are doing - because once that stuff is gone so is all that money. No surprise that nobody wants structures that old. Look at Toledo - Chrysler built new plants there and tore down the existing ones.


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

I spent 31 years of my life at that toxic waste dump and Racer has no other options but to demolish the place. The average person has no idea what the soil is like under the building. 70 plus years of oil and cutting fluids seeping into the ground is just to much for a major cleanup to take place. The best and only option is to level the building and lay new concrete over the surface.


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 12:01 p.m.

Yankee Air Museum has made a tentative agreement with RACER trust to buy 175,000 sq ft, plus around 19 acres of land surrounding the plant. The cost will be $175,000, not $6m. The sale is contingent on Yankee raising the $6m by the 1st of August. The $6m will be used to separate the utilities, build demizing walls and other upgrades. This has been previously reported in other articles by Donations can be made at

Ryan Martin

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 12:42 p.m.

Jonathan Blutarsky

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 4:09 a.m.

I recently read an article from a Life Magazine circa August 1945, a small treasure I found from Salt City Antiques., that told the story of the plant and questioned if there was any viable use for such a large building.

1982 Brew Crew

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 12:37 p.m.

Cool...perhaps you could scan it and email it to the author of this tory for potential posting?

Jonathan Blutarsky

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 3:58 a.m.

One would think the Yankee Air Museum could negotiate better than 6 million for the piece they want.


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 2:49 a.m.

Sad to see, but how about building a RACER Track there and having events that might bring commerce to the area?


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 2 a.m.

Such fond memories working there as a summer hire during college... There were 7 college kids running the new pinion gear automation on third shift where 35 UAW guys where staffing it 1st and 2nd shift..... After one week our production exceeded the other shifts and our scrap was less.... We were met at the door on Monday the thugs..... "Cut production or else".... We slept 6 hours on the job from that point forward.... I love Unions and the UAW.......I really do..... Don't let the door hit you in the a__


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 11:40 p.m.

Yes, I can relate to that story as well. I have heard how unions make you work less and sleep more. Unions are ok for some things, but not all.

Know Better 1959

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 6:17 p.m.

Oh I think I know what I write about having spent 34 years there poor college boy I'm sure you are happy now driving your Toyota and telling everyone how American it is. What I hear is everyone was lazy but you how sad for you I'm sure you worked your butt off at your desk after daddy paid for your classes and got you a job!


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 5:33 p.m.

Know Be...19.. You know not what you write about...... We were all engineers at U of M whose fathers or friend's fathers worked as engineers at the plant. We were supervised by a supervisor in an adjacent area of the plant and the reason we were on 3rd shift in 1979/80 was because we were making as many transmissions as possible (X-Car platform) at the time and the Union goons were getting all the overtime they wanted. While it is true we were back in school before we became Union goons ourselves, nobody else wanted the 3rd shift....and the 10% shift premium was a nice, unearned bonus for sitting on our butt. We all learned many valuable lessons from that experience including: Supervisors where as lazy as the rank and file... Union workers looked for ways to cover their butts for not being productive... Union guys hated college least at Willow Run.... Union guys were goons and thugs when it came to being shown up and accountable for their poor production and delivering crappy product.... Incidentally....the X - Car was a piece of crap.

Know Better 1959

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 3:06 p.m.

Wow this doesn't even come close to passing the smell test. Since most people that read this have never stepped foot inside a factory I can see they may be inclined to believe this post but truth is 7 new summer hires on a shift by themselves not going to happen and 3rd shift no less (The preferred shift since it carries a 10% pay premium) unlikely as well and then they slept 6 hours a night after that guess there were no supervisors there either and being summer help they were not in the union so the first one caught sleeping would be out the door on the spot just a hack post to rile up the unknowing


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

"Typical Right-Wing lies and fabrications." Looks to me live testimonies. I've heard and seen carbon copy stories like these for years. Coincidence?


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

Typical Right-Wing lies and fabrications.

Silly Sally

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 11:54 a.m.

If the management had put a stop to such union thuggery, they never would have been in such dire straights in 2010

Silly Sally

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 11:52 a.m.

My brother-in-law is in an iron worker union in California where he is a foreman. His chief complaint against them is that the best workers and the worst are paid the same. If this union attitude did not persist in Michigan, auto companies and other manufacturers would be locating here instead of southern states. This is why this building will be torn down. Unions! Good for the workers at the expense of their children and grandchildren


Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 2:34 a.m.

I can relate to that. I worked in the Engineering Department for 12 years and I have never in my life seen lazier workers than the union workers. Sleeping, drinking, refused to do work unless it was on overtime. There were some hard workers but not many.

greg s

Wed, Apr 24, 2013 : 12:10 a.m.

OMG after working there for 30 years, I still can't believe it's empty. To be demolished would hurt a little, lots of memories over those years there.