WaterWheel Centre goes from blight to gem in downtown Northville

The WaterWheel Centre is a classic example that not all old buildings are blight.

Eyesore is what a lot of local residents saw when they looked at 235 E Main St. after Ford pulled out of it. The Albert Kahn-designed building had fallen a long ways since Henry Ford commissioned it as one his last community industry buildings. This factory, which once made the valves in every Ford for the heart of the 20th Century, stood empty when Richard Cox found it in 1994.

"They actually were thinking of tearing the building down," Cox says. "I rebuild cars and when I saw the building I knew it was a diamond in the rough."

He initially kept it as manufacturing space for his company, giving the surrounding green space to the city for a park.

But the 52,000-square-foot facility was too big for just him. Luckily people were starting to take notice of his offices there, so he started to rent some of that space out. A little more than 10 years later it made the transition from brownfield industrial to edgy downtown offices.

Today six companies and a health club occupy the ground floor and basement area. HSK Architecture is moving in early this year, creating an absolutely beautiful space, according to Cox.

"They could pay more per square foot than I could for manufacturing," Cox says.

Those companies weren't the only ones taking notice. Ford officials brought in people from around the world to show off how nicely it was renovated before buying the sister buildings to it in Australia. All because of how well Cox shinned up the old structure in Northville.

Source: Richard Cox, owner and general manager of the WaterWheel Centre
Writer: Jon Zemke