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Automotive Testing Site: Passing Smart-Growth Test with Flying Colors

By Bruce Rasher

An industrial property in Southeast Michigan that was vital in the allied victory in World War II will soon play a transformative role in the transportation of the future.

Michigan's two United States senators and the local member of Congress joined Gov. Rick Snyder and other key figures at a ceremonial groundbreaking for the American Center of Mobility in November, two weeks after Willow Run Arsenal of Democracy Landholdings Ltd. Partnership completed its purchase of the property from RACER Trust.

The symbolic importance of the Willow Run property, in Ypsilanti Township, is impossible to overstate. It was there that Henry Ford applied his genius for mass production to manufacturing B-24 bombers during World War II, churning out one plane every 55 minutes around the clock in support of the war effort.

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General Motors took ownership of the property, which included a 5-million square foot building, in the 1950s and produced more than 82 million automotive transmissions before closing the plant in 2010. Hundreds of thousands of people worked at Willow Run during its decades of operations.

RACER Trust took ownership of the 335-acre property in 2011 following GM's bankruptcy proceedings. From the earliest days of our ownership, it was evident that the property's greatest potential was for redevelopment of vacant land, which meant the buildings would be demolished. We were pleased to strike a deal with a local military aircraft museum to preserve the original hangar portion of the building before focusing our marketing efforts on attracting a buyer who would invest in beneficial reuse and job creation at the site.

Interest quickly coalesced around developing and testing the transportation technology of the future at Willow Run, tapping into the world's greatest concentration of automotive engineers and ensuring Michigan's continuing presence as the leader in automotive ingenuity. RACER was well along in talks with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation when Gov. Snyder declared in his 2016 State of the State address the state's intent to foster a new generation of mobility innovation at Willow Run.

The American Center for Mobility is set to become a national-scale advanced automotive testing and product development center that can accommodate the broad needs of industry and government, test various weather conditions including ice and snow, and provide room to grow and adapt as technology dictates.

It will serve as a proving ground for collaborative safety technology demonstrations, as well as serving as a high-technology research and development facility that ultimately will expand the region's business incubation and acceleration capabilities around automotive technology.

What was old will be new again. RACER Trust is proud to have served as a bridge from the property's industrial past to its technology-fueled future, a place where imagination and innovation will continue to thrive.

Bruce Rasher is Redevelopment Manager of RACER Trust. For more information about RACER Trust, please visit www.racertrust.org.

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