Part of Wixom plant being demolished; Menards may use site

Posted on November 30, 2012

With the rumble of machinery and the crash of metal, the site of Ford’s shuttered Wixom Assembly plant is entering its next phase of life.

Demolition crews have begun ripping apart one-quarter of the massive 4.7-million-square-foot complex that last produced Lincoln Town Cars and employed as many as 5,468 workers in the early 1970s. The headcount was 1,100 when it closed in May 2007.

The automaker’s real estate arm is in talks with home improvement retailer Menards to purchase a 45-acre section of property close to I-96 off Wixom Road. The Wixom City Council recently agreed to Ford’s request to split that parcel from the 317-acre site, in addition to sectioning off a landfill area at the back of the property.

On Thursday, a Menards spokesman said the company hopes to build its 23rd Michigan store on the Wixom site, yet stressed that “nothing has been finalized.” Menards has not submitted design plans to the city. Wixom City Manager Tony Nowicki said that under one scenario, the retailer could build its store on 15 acres of the 45-acre parcel, then offer the rest.

Neither Ford nor Menards would reveal details of the proposal or any potential employment numbers. The demolition work has been under way for more than a month and is expected to finish by summer.

Strip mall retail is a much different redevelopment prospect for the site than was envisioned three years ago, when then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm joined Executive Chairman Bill Ford to announce the possibility of a $725-million renewable energy park with as many as 4,300 new jobs.

That project was to be anchored by battery maker Xtreme Power of Austin, Texas, and California solar company Clairvoyant Energy. But those ambitious plans fell apart by spring 2011, when the two companies failed to obtain about $500 million in financing from the U.S. Energy Department.

But a separate, high-tech prospect for the shuttered plant could still be in the works. Last year, Townsend Energy Solutions of Hunt Valley, Md., proposed opening a manufacturing operation at Wixom for, among other things, producing energy-efficiency products for fuel-efficient vehicles. The project was forecast to create 36 jobs in its first year and perhaps 875 jobs over five years.

The Michigan Economic Growth Authority board has already approved multiple rounds of tax credits for the project: a $6.3-million tax credit and two, $10-million brownfield tax credits. These tax credits are only to be used for industrial purposes — no retail.

Stefanie Denby, a spokeswoman for Ford Land, declined Thursday to discuss any Wixom plant offers or possible buyers. A representative of Townsend Energy’s parent company, Townsend Ventures, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

The Ford plant opened in 1957 as one of the world’s largest auto plants. Workers built more than 6.6 million vehicles there over 50 years.

JC Reindt, Detroit Free Press