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Posted on Wed, May 25, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

'Intense' interest, offers reported for General Motors Willow Run plant

By Nathan Bomey


Bruce Rasher (left) is managing the redevelopment efforts at the shuttered General Motors Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti Township. Grant Trigger (center) is the cleanup manager for the 36 former GM properties in Michigan that need environmental remediation. Cliff Lewis (right) is the new site manager at the Willow Run plant.

Nathan Bomey |

The redevelopment manager now leading the marketing of General Motors’ shuttered Willow Run plant said he’s “absolutely” convinced that the site will attract a new user.

And he’s got reason to be optimistic: Officials have already received “a number of offers” for the plant, he confirmed.

Bruce Rasher — redevelopment manager for the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response (RACER) Trust, which took control of GM’s abandoned properties on March 31 — told that several prospective buyers already have come forward.

“There is an intense amount of interest on the part of developers in this site,” Rasher told in an interview at the 5 million-square-foot plant in Ypsilanti Township.

The RACER Trust was set up as the legal entity charged with handling the long-term repositioning and cleanup of 89 former GM properties, including 56 in Michigan. Elliott Laws, a Washington D.C. attorney, is managing member of EPLET LLC, which was appointed as the administrative trustee for the RACER Trust.

The RACER Trust took control of the properties from Motors Liquidation Co., the so-called “old GM,” which was set up to handle the early marketing and legal duties associated with the old sites.

But Motors Liquidiation, managed by consultancy AlixPartners, is set to dissolve in December — and, in fact, only now exists for tax purposes, Rasher said.

The RACER Trust is handling all the marketing and cleanup of the former GM sites into the future.

AlixPartners put together a negligible marketing effort for the 70-year-old Willow Run plant while it was managing the property.

Nonetheless, several prospective buyers emerged, but Rasher said it wouldn’t be prudent to jump at the first suitor that comes along. Instead, he wants to market the site to a global audience to ensure he’s finding the best offer.

“I really feel that with an asset of this value, I need to expose it broadly to the market,” Rasher said. “Motors Liquidation Co. basically had buyers come to them with proposals and really did not advertise the availability of the property. In contrast, we’re going to aggressively market the facility to end users and to developers in order to seek out and ultimately accept the best offer on the facility.”

Rasher said the early offers have come from redevelopers, which would be likely to lease space to other companies. He said no manufacturers have made offers for the plant, although some have expressed interest.

Rasher said he hopes to launch the marketing effort in the fall and to sign a contract with a buyer by spring 2012.

Alternatively, he said, if the trust is not satisfied with the prospective buyers, the trust itself has the legal capacity to operate the site and attract tenants.


The last of the former GM plant's industrial equipment was auctioned off earlier this month. It will be shipped out of the plant over the next several weeks.

Nathan Bomey |

Among the key reasons Rasher believes the site will find a user is its proximity to Willow Run Airport, which is located immediately next door, as well as I-94 and Detroit Metro Airport, which is less than 15 miles away. Both airports are part of a regional vision to create an “Aerotropolis,” a cluster of shipping and transportation businesses.

This site is strategically located for logistics for both air, rail and truck freight,” Rasher said. “I’m convinced we’ll be able to capitalize on the Aerotropolis strategy.”

Under typical bankruptcies, a receiver would have a legal responsibility to liquidate surplus property at the highest possible price — regardless of any ensuing implications for local communities.

But a 91-page settlement agreement reached by the U.S. government, Motors Liquidation, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the 14 states with former GM properties lays out several factors the trust must consider in pursuing the disposition of the property.

Among those is “the potential for the reuse to create jobs,” as well as the likelihood of “increasing tax revenue, reducing blight and providing a sense of renewal.”

The trust also is obligated to consult with state officials and local municipalities to consider their wishes when weighing the future of the old GM plants.

Rasher said the trust already has met with many local officials to discuss the future of the Willow Run plant. They have a significant interest in the site's revitalization: GM paid about $5.4 million in property taxes to Ypsilanti Township in 2009.

The iconic site, designed by architect Albert Kahn, is one of the largest structures in the world. It has more square footage than the Willis Tower in Chicago, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

At its height during World War II, the plant employed more than 40,000 workers as a bomber manufacturing plant for Ford Motor Co. The site was sold to GM in the early 1950s and employed 14,000 at its height as an auto plant in the 1970s.

GM announced in June 2009 that it would close the Willow Run plant as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, displacing the 1,364 employees left at the time. It officially closed in December 2010, and the last of its equipment was auctioned off earlier this month. Over the next few weeks, truckers are shipping off the last machines still left at the site.

But the plant is not lifeless. Lawn care workers are mowing the grass, the plant is air-conditioned and workers are undertaking selective maintenance projects. A new site manager, Cliff Lewis, has been appointed, and security officials are monitoring the grounds.

Rasher said it’s all an attempt to preserve the site's marketability.

He acknowledged that possible buyers could include companies that would tear down the complex and sell scrap metal for a profit — but he said “we have no plans” to consider that route.

He said it’s likely that “portions of the building will be demolished” by a new user, if only because of much of the building is quite aged.

For example, one side of the building still has massive hangar doors that were built to allow complete B-24 bombers to roll out of the plant and right onto the Willow Run Airport runway to be tested before being shipped off to the Army Air Corps.

Nonetheless, Rasher said he expects to field a wide range of interest once the site is marketed broadly. He said the site could also be separated and sold off piece by piece.

“I’ll be talking to auto-related manufacturing end-users, renewable-energy-related manufacturing end-users and others that are in manufacturing that would benefit from a site with transportation amenities that this site has,” he said.

Perhaps the most marketable portion of the plant is a 1 million-square-foot section renovated by GM eight years ago to make six-speed transmissions.

“That portion of the building is high-quality space with recent renovations that we think is an ideal location for another user to step in immediately and reuse it,” said Grant Trigger, an environmental cleanup industry veteran hired to serve as the cleanup manager for the 36 Michigan properties that need remediation.

One of the key reasons why it’s even plausible for the RACER Trust to sell the plant is because of the $35.8 million budget for environmental cleanup at the 335-acre site. Those funds are part of a $518.9 million environmental cleanup budget the RACER Trust is managing.

Trigger said the Willow Run plant’s environmental problems could take “tens of years” to address.

“There’s some contaminated groundwater that needs to be addressed, largely attributable to releases of transmission oil and other oils from the site since 1941,” he said. “That’s really the primary issue.” Although the cleanup process will last a long time, trust officials said the environmental efforts would not stop a buyer from acquiring the site. The settlement agreement dictates that the trust will be responsible for the environmental cleanup even after new users acquire the former GM properties.

So a new buyer can step in without having to deal with the cleanup.

"We've taken care in how we manage the facility to ensure that they can step in and plug and play," Trigger said.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Thu, May 26, 2011 : 6:43 p.m.

The plant being referred to is the willow run hydramatic facility not the assembly plant which has been empty for 20years. The willow run airport losses 8 million a year and air freight is down at Metro. Some body will buy the guts ship them overseas and the plant will join the long list of empty businesses in washtenaw county.


Wed, May 25, 2011 : 3:35 p.m.

This story is a bit wrong. This Plant which is the Willow Run Hydro-Matic Plant just recently closed. The Willow Run Plant has been closed for decades. I hope this does bring Jobs and lots of them. With good pay. Don't get your hopes up. Watch this develop very close. i can already tell people are really getting there pockets loaded. And nobody from Van Buren Twp.Wayne County or Ypsilanti Twp. Washtenaw County. Have not seen a thing. but empty buildings.

Tom Joad

Wed, May 25, 2011 : 3:13 p.m.

A few well placed microbes could chomp up that mess in a few years. Bioremediation


Wed, May 25, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

"St. Regis Mohawk Tribe tribe" What's that about?

Gary Lillie

Wed, May 25, 2011 : 3:05 p.m.

The ST Regis Mohawk Tribe was the first question that popped into my mind, also. The second question has to do with the capability of the government being able to handle the sale of this property correctly. The third question is, will the Chinese end up with it. The last one scares me the most.

Nathan Bomey

Wed, May 25, 2011 : 1:51 p.m.

The tribe and 14 states were part of the settlement agreement with the U.S. government and Motors Liquidation Co. involving the 89 shuttered GM properties. The tribe was part of the settlement because at least one of the former GM properties is located in its territory. It's this plant: <a href="" rel='nofollow'>;source=web&amp;cd=4&amp;ved=0CDYQFjAD&amp;;rct=j&amp;q=%20general%20motors%20massena%20plant&amp;ei=BwndTfrJMozVgAf8ucX4Dw&amp;usg=AFQjCNHruvqxKg4Fgpu4gtB8z3RAT7nr0g&amp;cad=rja</a>


Wed, May 25, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

Actually, I wasn't referring to the typo (which, even though I quoted, I didn't notice). I was actually asking what is with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and the Willow Run plant?

Nathan Bomey

Wed, May 25, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

Thanks for catching the errant word. I fixed it.


Wed, May 25, 2011 : 11:34 a.m.

Very glad to hear some positive news for a change . Those that believe and invest in Ypsilanti, will someday be the real winners . I smell a turnaround and it smells GREAT!

Monica R-W

Thu, May 26, 2011 : 12:07 a.m.

@Jondhall....Yes it is!


Wed, May 25, 2011 : 10:47 a.m.

And furthermore when machines had coolant overflow problems where did the coolant go???? It seeped through the wooden blocks into the soil which spread out to who knows how far. I can recall that not a day went by that aisles were flooded with over flowing coolant that sat there for long periods of time. And where did it go???? Into the ground.


Thu, May 26, 2011 : 12:09 a.m.

All floors were (and still are) concrete. The wood blocks were a 2-1/2 inch thick topping which was commonly used in manufacturing plants because it is much easier on workers' feet and legs than concrete when standing for long periods and walking. The recently renovated parts of the plant which do not have the wood block floors are actually less ergonomic than the 70 year old design.

E. Daniel Ayres

Wed, May 25, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.

I've seen what can happen when unscientific &quot;legal eagle&quot; folks get involved in issues involving old industrial sites. (All possible use and development/redevelopment stalled for the forseeable future.) It is essential to take a science based and balanced approach and not to &quot;cry over spilt milk&quot; but rather to act rationally to deal with an existing situation in a sustainable way. The energy costs of remediation may be a greater source of long term problems than leaving things pretty much as they are...


Wed, May 25, 2011 : 10:40 a.m.

Trigger says cleanup efforts could take tens of years to complete? And goes on to say there's some contaminated groundwater? Some? How about a massive amount!!! The cutting fluids and trans fluids that for years were dumped into the ground before the co. began collecting them is astounding. I know!! I was employed there for 31 years and saw first hand the practice of dumping before the co. started the containment process.