What if it was possible to peek into the future of automotive technology? A place where tomorrow's cars were driving around without drivers and new vehicles were being tested for the first time? That's exactly what Ann Arbor SPARK
, RACER Trust
, Devon Industrial Group and Walbridge Development, LLC. have in mind for the 332-acre property that houses the former Willow Run Powertrain plant.
The plan announced last week is to deconstruct the existing five-million square-foot powertrain facility to make way for a connected vehicle research center, where automakers and startups could test new technologies.
"We're really heartened to see developers step forward. If this site is developed it would be dramatic for the community," says Paul Krutko, president and CEO of the economic development organization Ann Arbor SPARK. "We think it should be an open source environment. Some kind of entity will need to be created to maintain it, and as the companies need to use it, they would book time. We also like the idea of creating an incubating environment so new companies could test their new ideas."
The recent announcement is a first step in a long development process, says Krutko. Under the current plan, Devon Industrial Group will manage the dismantling and removal of industrial buildings from the site by MCM Management, which is expected to be a 12-month process. Walbridge Development would then redevelop the property into the planned research center.
"Generally, you test something in a live environment," says Krutko, "but to validate them, to make sure they're safe, you need a controlled environment. A facility would need to be a really sufficient site to test how a car would merge onto a freeway, or what happens when it goes into a tunnel."
The proposed connected vehicle research center would include a number of structures as well as outdoor development courses. According to a whitepaper
released by Ann Arbor SPARK, the construction cost is expected to be about $90 million and could create 1,950 direct jobs. The economic impact to the areas is expected to be as high as $360 million, creating 7,800 direct and indirect jobs and $526 million in wages.
Source: Paul Krutko, Ann Arbor SPARK
Writer: Natalie Burg
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