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Posted on Thu, Apr 25, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

GM Powertrain redevelopment:'Energyopolis' laboratory and waste mining facility proposed by U-M students

By Katrease Stafford


RACER Trust Site Manager Cliff Lewis speaks about the 5-million-square-foot space at the former Ypsilanti Transmissions Operations facility in Ypsilanti Township on Tuesday, March 26.

Daniel Brenner I

University of Michigan students will propose three possible ways to redevelop the former Willow Run GM Powertrain facility at a Thursday public event with local officials, business leaders and civic groups.

The proposals for the Ypsilanti Township facility will include:

Willow Network: A globally competitive research hub to promote collaboration and innovation in transportation research and development.

Energyopolis: Establishing a renewable energy laboratory for researching biofuel, solar, kinetic and wind power. Goals also include improving energy efficiency in West Willow and addressing public health concerns.

Waste Mining: Creating a recycling facility to convert local and regional waste into energy and provide jobs to residents.

The proposals follow a Tuesday announcement that 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.

Dick Norton, chair of U-M's Urban and Regional Planning department, said the event is a project involving about 25 students from the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Ford School of Public Policy, School of Public Health, College of Engineering, Office of University Development, Office of the Vice President for Research and Office of Government Relations.

The Willow Run study is part of Michigan's Engaging Community through the Classroom, a U-M initiative that combines research, teaching and public service in innovative ways. The initiative is led by the urban and regional planning department at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

"Each of the student groups are producing a report on the analysis," Norton said. "Our hope is that this Willow Run project is the first of many."

Norton said Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township officials and residents from within the Willow Run area will attend the event as well as representatives from SPARK, which has been a sponsor for the project.

"The project has had the effect of getting the local governments to engage with one another in a way they haven't done before," Norton said.

While the proposals were created as part of a classroom project, Norton said the students are hoping the discussions move forward into an actual plan. Norton said the students have been working with RACER Trust, the organization tasked with marketing and selling the former property.

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:

  • The Company Vehicle Operations facility, now under contract with International Turbine Industries
  • The Engineering Center: An office building attached to the main plant
  • The Powertrain Plant: 5 million square feet of manufacturing space

"RACER Trust has been one of the participant groups," Norton said. "Students meet with particular clients as needed. This presentation on Thursday will be the fourth time everyone comes together."

Norton said he hopes to be able to extend the research into additional semesters to enable more work to be done on the matter.

"It makes sense to reconfigure Willow Run into another semester or two," Norton said. "We haven’t figured out how to do that yet, but we're going to see if we can carry this forward. I think there's real interest on the part of the local community."

The event is open to the public and will be from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Willow Run Plant, at 2500 Airport Drive.

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.