Full circle: Old Verlinden plant could become site for making EV parts


For years, Lansing officials have been trying to redevelop the site of the old Fisher Body Plant, a General Motors factory on the city’s west side that was closed in 2005 and largely demolished two years later.

Now, with the help of $18.9 million in state money, that goal is a big step closer to reality.

Once that work is done, Karl Dorshimer, president of the Lansing Economic Development Corp., said it “would make sense” for the plant to house a “support hub” for making electronic vehicles.

“That seems like a good fit because it’s been marketed to those types of businesses in the past, and they’ve had interest. But because the site wasn’t ready, they didn’t relocate there,” Dorshimer said.

The effort to prepare the site made major strides last month when the State of Michigan earmarked the money to revitalize the old Verlinden Avenue plant. The sum was the largest chunk of an $87.5 million pool awarded to 18 projects across the state through the Strategic Site Readiness Program, a grant initiative intended to help repurpose large-scale sites to attract and promote future investment in Michigan.

At its closure, the 57-acre parcel featured the longest-operating automobile factory in the United States. At its peak in 1975, the plant had 4,950 employees who crafted an average of 1,900 car bodies daily.

However, by the time demolition was completed in 2007, very little visible evidence of that legacy remained. Since then, environmental and structural concerns at the site have stalled any potential redevelopment plans.

“There are a few small buildings on the site,” Dorshimer said, “but the vast majority of the site is covered with leftover concrete floors and foundations of various thicknesses and paved-over parking areas.”

State funds will address those obstacles, including crumbling foundations, outdated underground facilities, obsolete utility connections, and poor transportation infrastructure. The process will take at least a few years, but the goal is to get the plant to a state where a developer could come in and market it for future use.

Dorshimer’s team, which prepared and submitted the grant application to the Michigan Economic Development Corp., will help oversee the use of that $18.9 million.

It will involve a collaborative effort with other shareholders, including RACER Trust, an organization established in 2011 to manage and eventually sell former General Motors Corp. industrial sites like the Fisher Body Plant after the company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in 2009.

Since then, RACER’s primary task has been to contain underground contaminants left behind by GM to prepare those properties for sale. At the Fisher Body Plant, this primarily involves PFAS, a group of man-made “forever” chemicals used to protect carpets and fabrics that don’t break down through natural processes and can be detrimental to humans if ingested.

LEDC has also been in talks with NorthPoint Development, a Kansas City, Missouri-based firm that has had Fisher Body and two smaller, adjacent RACER-owned sites in Lansing Township under contract since 2016.

“If we get the site to the point where it’s developable, then NorthPoint will have committed to putting up structures and buildings on it so it’s able to attract development,” Dorshimer explained.

Mayor Andy Schor confirmed NorthPoint’s interest. He said he’d met representatives from the company several times while serving as a state representative for Michigan’s 68th House District from 2013 until 2018 when he was elected mayor.

“We met with them a handful of times, but the plans just kind of sat there because we didn’t have the money needed for the cleanup,” Schor said. “Once that was done, they said they didn’t think it would be hard at all to get advanced manufacturing here.”

Schor said that the $18.9 million earmarked for the old plant — which dates back to 1920 — was a watershed moment for Lansing.

“When I was in the Legislature, I was in the minority fighting for scraps. Now that the Dems are the majority, they have significant power and influence and are able to get these things done for us,” Schor said, citing Rep. Emily Dievendorf, D-Lansing, and Sen. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, as key players in the effort to utilize state strategic site funds, which were established by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2021, at the Lansing plant.

Schor echoed Dorshimer’s assertion that the site could be a prime spot for electronic vehicle manufacturing, but he added that it could still be “two or three years” before that decision is made.

“It’s not going to be residential because the contamination cleanup will be difficult. But anything from bigger commercial to light industrial manufacturing is possible,” Schor said. “Whatever it becomes, it’s going to be an incredible piece for our growth and a huge win for the city of Lansing, the region, and the entire state.”

Westside resident Taggert Doll has lived less than a quarter mile from the plant for 22 years. He was there for three years before the factory shut down and has witnessed the site’s stagnation firsthand in the years since.

“When we moved in, our neighbors would talk about the plant a lot. I remember smelling the paint fumes and stuff like that and wondering if it was OK for us to be exposed to that,” Doll said. “After it shut down, it feels like no one’s really talked much about it. We’ll see cars back there every once in a while and wonder what’s going on.”

“It’d be great to have finally have something there, because it’s sat there vacant for so long,” he added.

The plant first opened in 1920 as a factory for Durant Motor Works, the defunct Lansing-based company founded by General Motors co-founder William Durant. When the company was shuttered in 1931, the plant sat vacant until 1935, when GM purchased it for use as its Fisher Body Division. From 1940 to 1980, the plant was GM’s leading producer of full-size Oldsmobiles.

During the height of the United States’ involvement in World War II, from 1942 to 1945, workers at the Fisher Body Plant produced $43 million in war products, including key parts for the B-29 bomber and M4 Sherman tank. While the men were off to war, many of Lansing’s women would also take up jobs there.

The plant was rebranded as the Buick-Oldsmobile-Cadillac Lansing Body Assembly Plant in 1984 after GM dissolved its Fisher Body Division. A few years later, it became known as the Lansing Car Assembly.

GM started closing many of its plants around the turn of the century. The trend arrived in Lansing in 2000, when GM announced that it would produce the final model of the Oldsmobile at the Lansing plant. Once that run was done, the plant would close for good.

Lansing Mayor David Hollister spearheaded an effort he called the “Blue Ribbon Committee to Keep GM.” The committee worked with GM on plans to invest in the Grand River Assembly Plant, which opened in 2001.

Hollister’s efforts were key to a renewed partnership between GM and Greater Lansing. Following his campaign, the company opened its Lansing Regional Stamping Plant in 2003 and its Lansing Delta Township Assembly in 2006.

The most recent chapter in that relationship came in early 2022, when Ultium Cells — a GM and LG Energy Solution joint venture — announced it would open an electronic vehicle battery plant near the existing Delta Township Assembly. Workers broke ground on the 2.8 million-square-foot facility later that year, and production is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2024. Once completed, the plant will employ more than 1,700 people to craft electronic vehicle batteries for GM facilities throughout the United States.

As Lansing continues to fortify its electronic vehicle infrastructure, Dorshimer sees great potential in integrating the old Verlinden plant site.

First, the site must be cleaned. While that process plays out, Dorshimer said the LEDC plans on establishing “a neighborhood engagement process,” where residents of Lansing’s Westside neighborhood and others will have the opportunity to provide input on the project.

“With two vehicle assembly plants and one battery plant in the area, it is critical to build an EV ecosystem that supports the conversion to EV production,” Dorshimer said. “Preparing the Fisher Body site for development unlocks the potential of the site to serve as a support hub for the EV assembly plant supplier network, related recycling, research and development and the entire EV manufacturing ecosystem.”



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