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Posted on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ex-General Motors plant: Officials report no new offers for Willow Run factory

By Tom Perkins

At the final Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees meeting of 2012, Ypsilanti Township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo provided a frank assessment on the prospects for selling the former General Motors Willow Run Plant.

“It's not moving along as fast we would like,” she said.


The former GM Willow Run plant.

Tom Perkins | For

But township officials and the group marketing the 4.8 million square-foot site remain optimistic that a buyer will soon step forward. In all likelihood, redevelopment will come from multiple companies instead of a single manufacturer as the industry moves away from operating such large sites and plants.

Charged with marketing the property that plays such an important role in Ypsilanti Township and the region’s economy is the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response (RACER) Trust. It took control of 89 abandoned GM properties on March 31, 2011 and is responsible for selling, repositioning and cleaning up all the sites.

“Companies aren’t using facilitates this large,” said RACER redevelopment manager Bruce Rasher, adding that the trust has always expected it would take multiple companies to move the property's sale forward.

“In order to fund the cost of demising the buildings, you need to attract a critical mass of users to justify the expense. Not to say that we cant do that, but it is a challenge.”

Rasher said three to four large manufacturers could split up the property, or it could be sold to a developer who could then cut the property into multiple parcels.

Rasher declined to say what companies have expressed interest in the Willow Run plant in the past, or what companies continue to talk to RACER about it. In 2011, it was reported that the trust was entertaining an offer by A.E. Equities Group Holdings to purchase the property for $9 million, but the deal never panned out.

Although the plant’s size presents some marketing challenges, Rasher highlighted its built-in advantages. It's close to the Canadian border, and that makes it an attractive prospect to Canadian companies that need or want to manufacture goods in the United States. RACER is marketing the property to Canadian firms that might have an interest, Rasher said.

The 335-acre site also sits adjacent to Willow Run Airport and has an exit devoted to it off of nearby Interstate 94, which provides a built-in logistical advantage.

About 1 million square feet of the property was fully renovated five years before GM abandoned it, and the plant comes with high-capacity gas and electric supply. Additionally, it sits in close proximity to the University of Michigan’s research and development power and lies in the U.S. auto manufacturing sector’s center, which means companies can draw from a skilled workforce, Rasher said.

RACER recently sold two industrial properties in Ontario, Ohio and Shreveport, La. that were between 2 million and 3 million square feet. A developer who purchased the plant in Ontario plans to demolish part of the property and lease parcels of the rest, while an upstart fuel-efficient car company purchased the plant in Shreveport.

Rasher said those sales are reason to remain positive over the prospective sale of large manufacturing properties.

“We’re hoping that the momentum created by two recent sales announced by the trust in Ohio and Shreveport will provide even further exposure to the property,” Rasher said.

He declined to provide the plant’s listing price, but said its price is one of six criteria the trust considers in selling it: investment level, a bidding company’s reputation, the number of jobs it would create, community support for the bid and the extent to which a prospective buyer's re-use of the property is consistent with cleanup operations.

GM employed more than 1,300 workers at the Willow Run plant when it announced in June 2009 that the plant would close by the end of 2010. The plant — built in 1941 by Henry Ford as a bomber manufacturing plant — employed more than 40,000 people during World War II.


Fresh Start

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 : 2 a.m.

If we're serious about an Aerotroplis then we should be making Aircrafts. Let's start with contacting Boeing, Williams International, Lockheed, Bell Helicopter, Northrop Grumman and provide them a huge tax advantage to design, build and test aircraft here instead of trying entice Hollywood directors to film their movies here.


Tue, Jan 15, 2013 : 3:40 a.m.

So now that GM is making money, shouldn't they have to pitch in some cash on this deal? Only seems fair that they would have to pay for some of their trash.


Tue, Jan 15, 2013 : 3:11 a.m.

I'm suprised that it has not been swept up in the last few weeks. Tricky Ricky said that there will be tons of new jobs with the RTW legislation that was rammed through.

Bill Sinkule

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 : 1:18 a.m.

I would love to see a major global corporation purchase this property and develop it. The prospect of returning jobs and economic stability to the eastern edge of Ypsilanti Township and Washtenaw County is long over due. The site has access to 2 major airports with 15 miles of each other, rail service on the property, a major interstate highway in I-94, proximity to Canada and a proposed Aerotropolis project that is aimed at development between Willow Run and Metro aiports. Not to mention a highly educated pool of talent to draw from in Uof M, EMU, Wayne State and a host of Community colleges in the area. The historic past of this property is well noted, there are thousands of local residents in the Ypsilanti area that would love to see a vibrant, strong and properous company invest in the future, the future of Willow Run. I commend the Ypsilanti Township board in spending funds to market this property. It is money well spent.

Angry Moderate

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 : 12:13 a.m.

How about an underground conference center, with a greenbelt park on top?


Tue, Jan 15, 2013 : 3:41 a.m.

I was thinking maybe a new stadium and "entertainment district" for the Red Wings. The state legislators like to give money to those kind of projects, maybe take the money out of education again...


Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 5:48 p.m.

Put Airport to good use. Ann Arbor Metropolitan Airport! The Liberator terminal.

Ann English

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 : 12:30 a.m.

Whatever happens to the former GM plant, use it for something that can tolerate the great Willow Run Airport air shows! It's great even to watch air show rehearsals, better than fireworks!


Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 5:14 p.m.

Plants and office buildings in this country are being replaced with strip malls. That would be a really big strip mall. I suppose there can be a limit on how many coffee shops, restaurants, and fast food places are necessary within an area.


Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 6:22 p.m.

Yep, we need to earn some money before we can spend it....or just do like the old GM, get lots of credit and go bankrupt

Dog Guy

Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 2:51 p.m.

This property is perfect for a federal work and political re-education camp. It has room for internees to grow their own food and make their own tools as well as make work clothes for those of us who remain free. It could be named "Serf City".


Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 6:20 p.m.

Can't grow food over there, its a health hazard. All the toxic waste around must be unbelievable. Cost more to clean the place up then what the land is worth.


Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 2:35 p.m.

"He declined to provide the plant's listing price"...... Also, my car is for sale. How much? I can't say.


Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 2:19 p.m.

"In order to fund the cost of demising the buildings, ..." Did he really say "demising the buildings" ???? Why use perfectly good english like "tearing down" or "demolishing" when you can use twaddle like "demising" I weep..

Rod Johnson

Tue, Jan 15, 2013 : 12:19 a.m.

Don't confuse the issue with facts, Dan. Have some respect, SonnyDog09 is weeping.

Dan Byrne

Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 4:50 p.m.

...because "demising" and "demolishing" have two very different meanings. In this context, demising means transfering ownership.


Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 12:18 p.m.

Face the facts that a new owner who will employ many is not a reality.

Michigan Reader

Mon, Jan 14, 2013 : 10:16 p.m.

That may be true, but SOME kind of corporation which would put it to SOME kind of use, would generate more tax revenue for the township than what they're getting now.