Plan Would Create New Vehicle Testing Facility in Michigan

September 9, 2013

The site of the former Willow Run powertrain plant in Michigan would be transformed into a high-tech vehicle research, development and testing facility under plans unveiled Thursday.

The trust set up to oversee properties owned by a pre-bankruptcy General Motors announced plans for the “connected vehicle research center” in Washtenaw County’s Ypsilanti Township along with Devon Industrial Group and Walbridge Development LLC.

“This project fits perfectly with southeast Michigan’s long-standing leadership in automotive innovation,” Elliott P. Laws, administrative trustee of the RACER Trust, said in a statement.

The plan wouldn’t stand in the way of a campaign to save a portion of the plant where Rosie the Riveter helped build World War II-era bombers and became an icon of American female empowerment. That portion would be a new, expanded home for the Yankee Air Museum.

Under the new plan, Devon Industrial Group would manage demolition of industrial buildings on the Detroit-area property. Walbridge Development LLC would redevelop the property into a facility for use by automakers, suppliers and technology companies.

Demolition is expected to begin this fall and take about a year, officials said. Walbridge would buy the majority of the 332-acre property and begin redevelopment, subject to a development agreement with Ypsilanti Township that would detail the scope of the project.

Technology being developed for connected vehicles can allow sensor- and computer-equipped vehicles to communicate with each other and outside devices such as traffic signals or electronic signs to prevent collisions and improve traffic flow and fuel efficiency.

The Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust has marketed the Willow Run property since taking ownership in 2011. It sought proposals for demolition and a number of redevelopment proposals. The price for the site wasn’t being released, RACER Trust said.

Willow Run originally was built by Ford Motor Co. to produce the B-24 Liberator bomber during World War II, and made C-119 and C-123 aircraft during the Korean War. GM bought it in 1953. The RACER Trust took over sites around the country left behind in the bankruptcy of GM.

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