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Posted on Mon, Apr 12, 2010 : 1:10 p.m.

Saline's old R&B building targeted for potential sale

By Nathan Bomey

A manufacturing company in the Ann Arbor area is negotiating a deal to purchase the long-dormant R&B Machine Tool Co. building in downtown Saline, officials confirmed.

Thomas Fitzsimmons, part of the ownership group trying to sell the four-acre site, declined to reveal the name of the company that plans to acquire the R&B building. But he said it's a "local company that's looking to expand."

R&B building in downtown Saline.JPG

Saline's long-dormant 62,000-square-foot R&B Machine Tool Co. building may be headed toward a repositioning.

Melanie Maxwell |

The deal - which is still tentative - would be contingent upon approval of a tax abatement at the 62,000-square-foot facility.

The Saline City Council is expected to vote tonight on whether to establish an industrial development district at the site at 118 E. Michigan Ave., Saline City Manager Todd Campbell said. That’s a precursor to allowing a company to apply for a tax abatement at the site.

“We’re certainly supportive of new investment in the community, and we know that the buyers would be a good project if it worked out,” Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell said. “We want to work with them.”

A house at 111 Henry Street - which is adjacent to the R&B facility - would also be part of the sale, Fitzsimmons said.

The R&B building, a hulking brick-box structure that marks the start of downtown Saline, has been vacant for about 10 years.

Fitzsimmons' ownership group acquired the site in 2002 with the intention of redeveloping it but ultimately settled for leasing parts of the building to small companies to harvest some revenue. He said the site was in surprisingly decent shape.

"It’s an older industrial building built over several time periods. It’s in really good shape," Fitzsimmons said.

Saline luminaries Edward Redies and Joseph Buhr established R&B in 1942 to take advantage of a windfall of military contracts during World War II. As recently as 1988, R&B Machine Tool Co. employed 220 workers at the facility, said Saline Area Historical Society Vice President Wayne Clements, who was referencing a news report from the organization's archives.

“That guy kept everybody working even in down times,” former Saline City Administrator James Levleit said of Redies.

The R&B facility was a significant economic driver for downtown Saline for several decades - and its revival as a manufacturing facility could breathe life into downtown businesses.

"The possibilities are pretty spectacular if that entire building is filled," Saline Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Larry Osterling said. "The ideal thing, in the Garden of Eden (scenario), would be to have a retail complex. But if that building has to stay the way it is now, that’s without a doubt the best use for us."

R&B Machine Tool Co. established an independent subsidiary called R&B Plastics Machinery in 1980 - and that company still operates in a Saline industrial park on Woodland Drive, where it employs nearly 50 workers.

But R&B Machine Tool Co. was sold in 1998 to Beverly Hills, Calif.-based supplier UNOVA Inc., which harvested R&B’s $60 million in revenue and shuttered the Saline operation sometime after the acquisition.

The downtown building has served various purposes since then, including briefly serving as meeting space for the Saline City Council several years ago when the city was constructing its new City Hall building on Harris Street.

The largely vacant facility currently houses an accounting firm and a small auto equipment maker called Saline Manufacturing. Officials at the two companies that currently have operations at the R&B building could not be reached for comment.

The taxable value of the R&B building in 2009 was $704,807, according to Washtenaw County records. The taxable value of the Henry Street house also included in the deal is $67,000.

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or or follow him on Twitter. You can also subscribe to Business Review's weekly e-newsletter or the upcoming breaking business news e-newsletter.


David Rhoads

Tue, Apr 13, 2010 : 1:03 p.m.

As a member of the Saline City Council, I am pleased to report that we did approve the establishment of an Industrial District for that site at our meeting on April 12. While we still hope the site will eventually be converted into something closer to our downtown vision, we are looking forward to the building improvements and having more people in our downtown. This activity, along with the re-opening of the restaurant formerly known as Kelly's, later this year is solid evidence of Saline's vitality and positive business climate.


Tue, Apr 13, 2010 : 6:36 a.m.

Here is hoping the City Council asks the new owners if you get a tax break, please also update the facade of the building a bit to make it more visually appealing. Seeing as it is right next to the downtown area the project should be in line with the master plan drafted for the City a few years back.

Jed I Knight

Tue, Apr 13, 2010 : 12:02 a.m.

treetowncartel: I got your vibe and drift on first read.


Mon, Apr 12, 2010 : 8:58 p.m.

I'll be happy to see the vacancy filled, finally! I remember when they 1st moved over to the Industrial Park and all the old timers were speculating what would go in the old location....


Mon, Apr 12, 2010 : 8:50 p.m.

treetowncartel: The music genre has nothing to do with it! R&B = Reddies & Buhr.


Mon, Apr 12, 2010 : 4:37 p.m.

I think this is great! America (and Michigan) freed from the bonds of organized labor can beat anyone in terms of cost and innovation.


Mon, Apr 12, 2010 : 2:10 p.m.

MDM93. I was refering to the genre of music, not the tool company. I have no doubt that the tool company was a great contributor to the area. That being said, I think more of Celtic music with Saline than I do Rhythm and Blues. Just my opinion is all.


Mon, Apr 12, 2010 : 2:04 p.m.

What a deceptive title. R & B is suggestive of Rhythm and blues. R&B & Saline don't really go together??? Apparently the legacy of R&B Machine Tool Company has been long forgotten, along with its huge contributions to the Saline area. In all its years of business, R&B never once asked for a tax abatement, was instrumental in the recreation complex(largly paid for with cash donations from R&B), employed a couple hundred people from the area, for 60+ years, without laying off one single employee, among many, many other contributions this company graciously bestowed upon its home town. The Redies family was wonderful to work for, and the loss that the community of Saline was dealt, from the money hungry Unova company, has been felt since, and will for many years to come. I think its great for the city of Saline that a potential buyer may bring life back into the facility, particularily in the downtown district. It is needed badly. Sorry "treetowncartel", but I for one think that R&B and Saline definately go together, at least they used to.


Mon, Apr 12, 2010 : 1:30 p.m.

What a deceptive title. R & B is suggestive of Rhythm and blues. R&B & Saline don't really go together. @Ed, One would assume that legacy is also captured in the name of Buhr park.