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Posted on Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Willow Run bomber plant: Yankee Air Museum races to meet deadline as officials wary of demolition

By Tom Perkins

A massive $37 million demolition and cleanup of the former General Motors Willow Run Powertrain Plant is set to begin this summer.

But the former GM plant also is the former “Arsenal of Democracy”, and township officials say they don’t want the property’s owner, Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust (RACER), to forget the factory's place in local and national history.


The B-24 bombers were produced there by Ford Motor company from roughly mid-1942 until mid-1945 — when this picture was taken.

Taken by Ford Motor Company and property of Yankee Air Museum

That could be a sticking point when it comes time for the township to approve the demolition.

The RACER trust took control of the site and GM plants in 14 other states when the company went through government-sponsored bankruptcy.

In late April, the Yankee Air Museum, which operates out of an adjacent property, announced it was trying to raise the funds to purchase and preserve 185,000-square-feet of the plant where the B-24 Liberator bombers rolled off the assembly line during World War II.

“For us, it’s not just about demolishing a 5-million-square-foot factory; it’s also a major part of our history that’s being wiped out,” Township Attorney Doug Winters said. “People don’t realize the emotional fervor it strikes in people who were born and raised in that plant. And you’re talking about one of the most iconic industrial complexes in the world that was instrumental in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II.”

If the money is not raised by the deadline, that part of the plant will be demolished.

“It is going to be hard for us at the township to sign off on a demolition plan that includes the area of that plant that the Yankee Air Museum is trying to save," Winters said. "That would be totally unacceptable from our standpoint. There has to be some kind of value to the role that plant played.”

Per an agreement with the RACER Trust, the museum has until Aug. 1 to raise the $6 million necessary to complete the project. But some township officials contend the short time frame and amount of money to be raised are difficult targets. They are hopeful RACER will continue to work with the museum to make the project happen.

"It is our hope that the RACER trust gives the Yankee Air Museum the assistance they need to make the project a reality and preserve the history of Ypsilanti Township and our country. Their proposal will create jobs and they will be a major player in the redevelopment (of the plant)," Township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo said.

Bruce Rasher, RACER’s redevelopment manager, said the trust must consider certain criteria in any sale of trust property, which includes that a purchasing party must have the funds to carry out their plans and renovate the property in a manner that complies with state and local codes.

“Those terms were discussed at length with the Yankee Air Museum, and they understand that this is the opportunity,” Rasher said, adding the trust is supportive of their fundraising efforts and has granted access to the area the museum is trying to save.

The renovated 185,000-square foot building would allow the Yankee Air 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 current 40,000-square-foot building.

Yankee Air Museum founder Dennis Norton said the museum is making progress on its campaign. It has raised $150,000 through small donations, and meetings with potential large donors who could put six or seven figure donations into the campaign started this week.

"Both are important, but to reach the $5 million to $6 million mark, we've got to find a half dozen or so people who can drop a $1 million who think this is just really cool and saving this plant is a thing to do," Norton said.

He said RACER has been helpful with some cost savings efforts such as saving parts of the infrastructure that brought the cost of the project down by several million dollars. The time frame hasn't been an issue, Norton said.

"They gave us a certain amount of time and we're thankful we have that time to do it," he said. "One of the things a short time frame does is make it urgent, so that's part of our marketing.

"And by God, we'll do the best we can."

Anybody wishing to donate to the cause can look for more information at

Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter. Contact the news desk at



Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 10 a.m.

@Eg Eg, Are really serious about your suggestion? These people you mention could give 2 hoots about saving this albatross of a building. Nobody wants to touch this toxic waste dump. Why do you think the cleanup costs are so high? Because of the ground being tainted with machining fluids from the last 70+ years. Ya! I know first hand. I observed oils and coolant spills on a daily basis. The oils and coolants just dont magically disappear!


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 9:51 a.m.

After spending 31 years of my life there I wont be sad to see it go. It's a toxic waste dump!


Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 4:04 p.m.

According to Ms Stumbo she said as long as the concrete is not disturbed, then the waste can be safely disposed off. What is really sad is yes, this is a toxic landfill but yet it is our toxic waste problem. Lets hope that they can safely dispose of it. Otherwise we are looking at another Chernobyl.

Eg Eg

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 : 2:47 a.m.

What about Dan Gilbert or the Ford Family? Bill Davidson's heirs? It would also be great if some of our hometown musicians held a concert on the site with profits going to the bomber plant. Hey, Kid Rock, how about it?


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 11:14 p.m.

Someone call Roger Penskee..

greg s

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 9 p.m.

After spending 30 years of my life at that plant, the thought of tearing it down is really very sad. I sort of grew up in there and have lots of memories good and bad.........:-(


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 5:06 p.m.

What about the Ilitch family. They are handing out money to Detroit why not hand out a few bucks for this worthy cause. At least you you won't have to drive thru run down burnt out homes getting to a beautifully built casino. Have you seen what you drive thru to get there? Really needs to be demolished. Sorry Detroit, but this is a much better cause.


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 7:47 p.m.

If Mr Davidson had not passed away, I suspect he would have been close to the front of the line. Right now, it looks like much of his wealth is tied up with the IRS.

Tom Perkins

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 4:17 p.m.

Jeannette, Good suggestion. I've added a link to the story.


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

A lot of people misunderstand the money situation here. Purchase of the building plus the surrounding acreage is not $8 million! According to some, the cost of the building + the acreage is insignificant...most of the $8m will be paid to various local contractors (can you spell JOBS?) to build a couple of walls needed to separate the 185,000 square feet from the part that will be demolished. Also included in the $8m will be utilities separation, floor sealing, heating, fire suppression, and many other costs too numerous to mention. According to many people RACER Trust has been most helpful in this endeavor...they could probably make more money by demolishing the entire factory rather than assisting Yankee in preserving a small part. Step up and donate folks!!!!

Jeannette Gutierrez

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 12:50 p.m.

Great story, Tom. Is there any way you could include a link in the article text to the fundraising website, While a fundraising effort of this scale will need a handful of larger donors to succeed, Yankee still needs a significant portion to come from everyday people who care about the plant and its history... both to make the ambitious goal, and to show larger donors that this is a cause worth getting behind. It just can't happen without all of us doing our part. And, as if there weren't enough great reasons to save the plant, here's a link to the Detroit Free Press story and video of real, elderly Rosie the Riveters who worked at Willow Run revisiting the Willow Run Plant last Saturday. As the Rosies learned on Saturday, in the new, larger space in the old plant Yankee plans to expand to include even more exhibit space devoted to the Willow Run Plant, as well as have the room to have the Yankee Lady B-17 and other aircraft on display (currently they are hangared across the field from the Museum.) The Willow Run story encompasses the groundbreaking industrial and production advancements made there, community and nation working together to win a war, Rosie the Riveter, minority workers, and the birth of workplace diversity, and how the plant and the migration of people from all over to work there still defines our area to this day. It's a great story that deserves to be told to future generations.


Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 10:43 a.m.

You'd think that RACER could be the one's to donate the small portion to Yankee. It's only going to be demolished anyways. It seems rather wasteful. It is quite sad in this day and age that money is everything. I feel that RACER is holding this carrot over Yankee's head to try and exploit as much money as they can out of a nonprofit organization, which is really sickening. The GM plant is 5,000,000 square feet that will cost 37 million dollars to demolish however RACER wants 8 million dollars for 185,000 square feet of going to be demolished building? Seems a bit price gouged to me. I just hope Yankee can pull this one off.

1982 Brew Crew

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 3:03 p.m.

Sorry PWJT8D, but I think you misunderstand the purpose of the $6M fundraising--it is the minimum necessary to refurbish the 185,000 sq ft facility. RACER isnt' charging the museum for the property. But RACER's mandate is to sell to viable redevelopers with funds and a business plan. The new museum is a dream without money at this point. I think all hope it becomes funded. But dreams don't pay the bills.

Real Life

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 11:14 a.m.

RACER doesn't need $8 million, but the Museum needs $8 million to show that they can refurbish and develop the site. I've been at the site, and it is easy to believe it'll take every penny to bring the facility up to snuff. Keep encouraging people to donate!

Hugh Giariola

Fri, Jun 21, 2013 : 11:12 a.m.

Yes, I know it sounds like an easy solution. However, I believe RACER's hands are tied by bankruptcy, and they are charged with selling the assets of "Old GM" and distributing any money to creditors. So, it's likely the property is not their's to donate.