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Posted on Tue, Sep 10, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Yankee Air Museum has 22 days left to raise $3.2M to save portion of former Willow Run bomber plant

By Lizzy Alfs

Related story: New connected vehicle research center could propel region to national spotlight, SPARK CEO says

With 22 days left in its fundraising campaign, the Yankee Air Museum is about $3.2 million short of its $8 million goal to save a portion of the former Willow Run bomber plant in Ypsilanti Township from demolition.

The museum’s fundraising efforts are unaffected by the announcement last week that Detroit-based Walbridge Development LLC plans to develop a connected vehicles research facility on the site.


Visitors check out a plane at the Yankee Air Museum during a Salute to Aviation marking the museum's grand reopening in 2010. file photo

Yankee Air Museum wants to move its operations to a portion of the plant that manufactured B-24 "Liberator" bombers for World War II.

“We still need to have some major donors who can donate six and seven figures step forward to help us out, but we’re making very steady progress,” said Yankee Air Museum founder Dennis Norton.

“There are corporations who have stepped forward and said they’ll help us out with some (construction, contracting and utilities work), which simply lowers the amount of cash we have to raise,” he added.

If the Yankee Air Museum reaches its goal by Oct. 1, the museum would renovate about 175,000 square feet of the nearly 5 million-square-foot former Willow Run GM Powertrain plant, and relocate its existing museum operations from the east side of the Willow Run airport.

The museum would purchase a total of about 840,000 square feet of the site, or 19.3 acres, from owner RACER Trust. The museum’s plans include parking for about 700 vehicles, and a 1,000-person capacity conference hall.

Of the $8 million fundraising goal, RACER Trust knocked about $2 million off the top after it re-engineered its demolition plan to preserve electrical lines. Rewiring the electrical lines would have cost about $2 million, Norton said.

"(RACER) wants us to succeed in this thing also and they’ve given us a lot of help," he said.

Relocating to the former bomber plant would allow the museum to store all of its planes and other items under one roof. Currently, flyable planes and the museum are in separate facilities, and around 15 airplanes sit outside where they can’t be viewed during winter for lack of space in their 40,000-square-foot building.

Norton said he’s “relatively confident” the museum can reach its goal in the next 22 days.

“So many people locally have some type of historical tie to the plant,” Norton said. “We’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds of people who say, ‘My grandfather or grandmother worked there.’ The majority of donations are local, however, we have gotten a significant number of pledges or donations from outside the area.”


B-24 "Liberator" bombers roll out of the Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti Township in 1945. The bombers were produced there by Ford Motor company from roughly mid-1942 until mid-1945.

Taken by Ford Motor Company and property of Yankee Air Museum

RACER Trust plans to begin demolishing the former Willow Run plant in October. If the museum reaches its goal, that portion of the plant would be saved from demolition.

Once demolition is finished and site contamination is removed, Walbridge Development plans to purchase the property — with the exception of the museum portion — and develop a connected vehicles test track and R&D facility.

The process to redevelop the site for connected vehicles research could take years, and Walbridge would first need to enter into a development agreement with Ypsilanti Township.

“Partnering with the museum on one end of it and all the things we’re going to have, this seems to be a very good fit (for the site),” Norton said.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Wed, Sep 11, 2013 : 1:49 a.m.

I hope they can pull this off. The YAM is a great asset in this community. However.... I don't understand why there is this close-in drop dead date for the fundraising effort. The demolition is going to take quite a long time and probably 99% of it will involve the former plants. I'll bet it's going to take close to a year before those plants are gone. Why can't the YAM deadline be extended to the last minute? If they haven't raised the necessary funds by by that time then I guess it's not going to happen. This looming date that's just 22 days away seems kind of artificial and phony.

Robert D. Mosley

Tue, Sep 10, 2013 : 5:31 p.m.

Great piece and as a US Veteran, I think we should save more of our historic sites. They remind us of our history and how, in this case, we came together to fight the evil of fascism. The ignorance of history and forgetfullness of many Americans is apalling and this is just one of the small things we can do to remind us all. In my trip to Europe several years ago, the Europeans know how to preserve their history. We need to do more of both the positive and negative of history so that we all grow together as Americans. Thanks again for writing this!


Tue, Sep 10, 2013 : 5:22 p.m.

I hope they reach their fundraising goal. Having a great local museum like the YAM that has preserved all those planes and related history is a real asset. It's a great use of a part of the old Willow Run Plant.


Tue, Sep 10, 2013 : 2:56 p.m.

Who cares-not our gov. All the wasteful spending that goes on-much spent overseas, yet the homeland gets forgotten about. What can we do but vote every couple of years. This is what the people wanted-voted for the past 30 years, so enjoy it and don't go crying to me for a handout. That's cold but what comes around, goes around.