Motor Wheel: Transforming a Downtown Site from Industrial to Postindustrial
Transition in the Inner City
The story of Motor Wheel in Lansing, Michigan is a remarkable one involving the transformation of a typical large factory building of the early 1900s into a multiple use (but primarily residential) urban locale for the Twenty-First Century. It serves as an almost ideal type case study for industrial transition and site reuse. It is still unclear whether or not this project will be the last word in urban redevelopment, but it seems certain that it will be around for a considerable time, so it deserves an in-depth analysis.
The History of Motor Wheel
The company originated as the W.K. Prudden Company and erected the large factory building in 1916. It soon became a major manufacturer of wood and steel wheels for both military and civilian purposes. The outbreak of the First World War and America's entry into the conflict only stimulated the demand for rims, wheels and tires, including those mounted on artillery field pieces. Like Oldsmobile (also a Lansing based company), Prudden's business flourished after peacetime conversion. It was a major local employer for decades and contributed to economic growth in the area. After merging with other companies, the name was changed to Motor Wheel. Still later, it was aquired by Goodyear Tire and Rubber through a complex leveraged buyout. Production ceased at the Plant 1 building, and the structure sat idle for many years.
A Serious Environmental Problem
During the company's long history, at least one serious environmental crisis emerged at a twenty-four acre site which the company owned. It was a waste disposal site from 1938 to 1978. The company used this site for dumping toxins as the by-product of industrial production. Its future parent Goodyear, and W.R. Grace and Company were all involved in this practice, which got them into trouble with the Environmental Protection Agency. The term "Brownfields" entered the ecological vocabulary around this time, as did the federal Superfund cleanup program. Finally, the site was decontaminated to the satisfaction of all parties, but Motor Wheel soon ended wheelmaking in Lansing.
The Site Today
The original structure still occupies its city block filling site today. Bounded by busy Saginaw Street (one way eastbound) and northbound Larch Street, it is at the crossroads of urban traffic flow in the north end of Lansing. The old factory building has been completely remodeled into leased units with a variety of rent ranges, and the condominium plan is also found there. Interestingly, the loft apartments follow the same lines and spaces as in the building's factory days. As a result, there are high ceilings in some units formerly used for manufacturing. Also, the building's owners deserve some credit for attempting to promote the "green" concept of environmentally friendly and responsible design. It is hoped that this consciousness will spread to other prospective complexes in the Lansing area as well. Finally, word should be made of the novel idea of incorporating a police precinct into the overall development! The Lansing North Police Precinct is housed in a glassed extension on the north side of the building, giving it a true multipurpose feel. It is too soon to tell if this innovative project will be the harbinger of things to come in the area's real estate culture, but it certainly will leave its stamp behind for years to come. The signature smokestack bearing the proud name "Prudden" on it is still the landmark of the neighborhood, and symbolizes the transition of the site from industrial to postindustrial. (Information for this hub was obtained from various sources, including the H, Inc.website and the author's own visits as a resident of this neighborhood).