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  • Free Press: Historic Ford mills along Rouge River, Hines Drive to get redeveloped

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    The Detroit Free Press' John Gallagher reports on plans to redevelop the historic Ford Motor Company mills along Hines Park.

    Free Press: "Almost invisible to the public today, several old industrial mills dot the Middle Rouge River in Detroit's western suburbs. Those mills are a legacy of Henry Ford's industrial empire. But more, they may play a key role in Wayne County's hopes for a more vibrant system of parks."

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  • Associated Press: Michigan officials hope to redevelop Henry Ford mills

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    The Associated Press writes about Wayne County's plans to facilitate redevelopment of three historic mills once operated by Henry Ford.

    Associated Press: "Ford created the Village Industrial Mills in the 1920s and '30s. They acted as small factories that used hydroelectric power for manufacturing, mainly producing auto parts, until the county took them over after World War II.

    Evans' team foresees potential buyers preserving and restoring the mills while integrating them into the parks system. Having potential developers interested in fitting into the larger concept for the area is important, said Khalil Rahal, the county's director of economic development."

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  • Hometown Life: Wayne County looks to sell historic mills, have them redeveloped for 21st century

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    Hometown Life's David Veselenak reports on plans to redevelop Hines Park's historic mills.

    Hometown Life: "The project, dubbed the Hines Park Mill Run Placemaking Project, aims to increase the non-motorized access to these sites for area residents and park-goers. The sale of the properties still have some protections put in place, Rahal said, including requirements that buyers rehab the mills in accordance with federal guidelines for the Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings as determined by the U.S. Department of the Interior. That means the agreements forbid the demolition of these mills.

    The agreement also calls for the properties to also remain open to the public, unless a private event such as a wedding is taking place. This type of arrangement would prevent the purchase of these properties and developers transforming them into private office parks or other similar uses."

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  • Mill Run: Myth versus Reality

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    Few Wayne County operations are more important to residents than our park system. That's why we've undertaken a project, dubbed Mill Run, to rehabilitate three historic Ford Motor Company mills currently owned by the County. In addition to reopening the mills for public uses, the project will open to the public currently inaccessible green space, create new trail connections, and ultimately expand the size of Hines Park. Unfortunately some misinformation has been spread about Mill Run. We'd like to correct the record.

    MYTH: Hines Park is for sale.

    REALITY: The County is not selling Hines Park. Rather, our plans expand park acreage and identify ways to make the Park a more attractive destination for nature lovers, cyclists, runners, and history enthusiasts. Hines Parks' footprint is 2,300 acres. Wayne County is seeking development partners for four parcels of land totaling 21 acres. These 21 acres are former factory sites, with environmentally compromised, underused land that is inaccessible to the public. Three of the parcels have on it a run-down historic mill. The County's development partner would rehabilitate the mill preserving the mill's historical legacy while, at the same time, creating more publicly accessible green space. The first of these partnerships covering the Phoenix Mill property has an agreement that accomplishes these worthy goals. As we expand the public use of these 21 acres, Wayne County Parks and the Wayne County Land Bank are identifying parcels of County-owned land to add to Hines Park. So far, we've earmarked 16 acres of new land for in Hines Park and expect to identify at least 29 acres on new park land for Hines Park. The net impact of this project is a larger Hines Park.

    MYTH: If the mills are sold, they're gone forever.

    REALITY: The mills will remain where they are. Instead, however, of remaining run-down former manufacturing sites that are inaccessible to the public, under the development agreements, the mills will be rehabilitated and available for public use for the first time in 70 years. Any developer will have to agree protect the mill structures, create new trail connections on land where no current bike or hiking trails exist and open green space that is currently inaccessible to the public. This can, only, happen by engaging development partners for the Mill Run properties.

    MYTH: Nankin Mills is for sale.

    REALITY: Nankin Mills is not for sale. It is the crown jewel of Hines Park and the headquarters for the Wayne County Parks Division. The Department of Public Services is investing more than $800,000 to renovate the Nankin Mills Interpretive Center, improve its animal habitats and fabricate new exhibits. Work is to start on this project in the coming months.

    MYTH: The Parks millage could be used to restore the mills instead of selling them.

    REALITY: Wayne County can't afford to restore or even maintain these mills from millage funds. The cost to rehabilitate the three mills is estimated in the millions. This price tag, likely, exceeds the annual capital improvements revenue generated by the Parks millage. Diverting funds from the Parks millage or other County sources would mean defunding other important parks projects and, even then, the Parks millage, likely, wouldn't cover the cost of this project. The ¼ mill Parks millage is the primary revenue source for the entire Wayne County Parks system, comprised of 5,600 acres of parkland. Wayne County Parks are drastically underfunded compared to similar systems. The millage funds available for capital improvements in FY 2019 total $2.6 million. More than $1.3 million of that budget is allocated by Wayne County Commissioners for park projects in local municipalities, leaving about $1.3 for capital improvements throughout the entire Wayne County Park system.

    MYTH: These properties have deed restrictions and are integrated into Hines Park.

    REALITY: The Ford Motor Company donated or sold these mill properties for $1 to Wayne County. There are no deed restrictions prohibiting the sale of these properties. They've never been programmed as public space by Wayne County Parks. Some of the land is even zoned by local communities as residential. While Wayne County has the right to sell these properties, Wayne County is only interested in selling to developers who will accept the development agreements that will increase public access to this land and preserve the historic mills.

    MYTH: There is no information available on this project.

    REALITY: Information on this project has been readily available. In addition to the public discussions about the Phoenix Mill sale during Commission sessions and committee meetings, Wayne County leadership has discussed this project with a local media and the County Executive has answered letters of concern from residents. Additionally, the Administration has met or communicated with local officials and more than 15 nonprofit organizations on more than 50 occasions to ensure this project is shaped by community input and support.

    Please visit to learn about the project, review public documents, and keep abreast of the latest developments. In the coming months, as redevelopment plans progress, there will be public informational meetings to discuss the project and seek input from community leaders, local elected officials, and residents.

  • Commissioner Terry Marecki: Hines Park proposal needs full, open discussion

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    Wayne County Commissioner Terry Marecki penned an op/ed column published on about Mill Run and the discussion about the fate of the mills.

    Hometown Life: There is currently a proposal in Wayne County that would allow for the sale of dilapidated mills to developers to be turned into restaurants, coffee shops, etc. I am not, today, advocating one way or another for this proposal. I am advocating simply for proper discussion and review. These historic mills have sat for decades and have been inaccessible to the public. If there is a path to rehabilitate and preserve them in a way the public can enjoy, it is worthy of our time and attention.

    The end result may be the commission rejecting or approving the sale of two of these mills. Or we compromise with the executive's office an an alternative path. But either way, we would be doing Wayne County residents a disservice to not at least vet and discuss the plan. Public officials, in good conscience, cannot make educated decisions without fully analyzing the proposals before them. And if we are public advocating for or against the proposal before the proper vetting has been completed, we are serving no one's best interests.

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  • Plymouth Voice: Historical Treasure or Eyesore

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    Jack Dempsey, the former President of the Michigan Historical Commission, penned an op/ed column published in the Plymouth Voice about the future of Wilcox Mill and its historic significance.

    Plymouth Voice: One of the historic properties up for sale is the 3.5-acre Wilcox Mill site located on the border of the city of Plymouth and Plymouth Township. Wayne County is seeking a partner not to raze but to restore Wilcox Mill before it is lost forever. Restoration will require significant investment, especially to comply with national rehabilitation standards. Adaptive reuse is a proven strategy to repurpose heritage structures rather than tearing down and replacement. Saving the Mill for public patronage is what the County seeks.

    Mr. Dempsey is an avid historian, two-term President of the Michigan Historical Commission and award-winning author. His writing focuses on the Civil War, the history of Michigan, and cultural heritage. His book presentations have been featured at The Henry Ford, the Historical Society of Michigan, the Kerrytown Book Fest, historical museums, public libraries, Civil War Round Tables, in schools, and on public television and radio. He is a resident of Plymouth Township.

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  • Ralph Wilson Foundation awards $1.9M grant for Iron Belle trail connections in Wayne County

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    The Friends of the Detroit River [FDR], along with several regional nonprofits and government agencies, will receive a $1.9 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation for an Iron Belle Trail Continuation project. The project will complete plans for 3.5 miles of trail gaps and enhance the Iron Belle Trail connections between Detroit and the Downriver communities. When completed, the Iron Belle Trail will span 48 counties and more than 2,000 miles statewide, including 25 miles through the Downriver communities.

    Partners in the massive project with FDR, the grant fiduciary, are Downriver Linked Greenways, Wayne County, MotorCities National Heritage Area and the Department of Natural Resources.

    Within the Downriver area, the project spans multiple municipalities and affects more than half a million residents. The overall goal of the project is to strengthen connections between the Downriver Linked Greenways and the Hines Park Greenway to Detroit Greenways, ultimately serving 1.75 million people in the Detroit Metro region.

    The project will increase bicycle access to parks, including Lake Erie Metropark, stretching from Flat Rock to Detroit along the Iron Belle Trail and west through Hines Park to Northville. It will improve trail-road crossings and trail gateways, and create a new park commemorating the 1932 Hunger March in Southwest Detroit.

    Said David Howell, board chairman for FDR, "This project provides long-awaited plans to fill gaps in southeast Michigan greenways and will implement some exciting features along the way. It will greatly increase the quality of life and recreation throughout the area."

    Downriver Linked Greenway's Anita Twardesky, agrees. "Since 1998, Downriver Linked Greenways has strived to connect our communities via a comprehensive trail system. This system provides opportunities for both recreational use and non-motorized transportation. In addition, access to our natural resources is key to our region for both economic development benefits and recreation use."

    The Iron Belle Trail Continuation project, and the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation Grant, are the result of years' worth of partnering between the groups involved in the project. The initial gap study began in 2015 and identified key areas that would complete and strengthen this segment of the Iron Belle Trail. From there the five groups came together to shape a larger vision.

    The groups identified seven major tasks in the project, outlined briefly below. Work begins immediately on the Iron Belle Trail Continuation Project. For more information, contact Friends of the Detroit River at

    1. Route Gap Planning, Design and Engineering: Adding more than three and a half miles of trail in Detroit and downriver communities to fill gaps in the statewide Iron Belle Trail.
    2. Road Crossing Design and Engineering: Improving or creating safe road crossings at 17 major road intersections along the Iron Belle Trail.
    3. Marketing and Branding Plan: Promoting Destination Downriver, a collaborative effort to recognize the regional trail network as an important tourist destination and an asset to the region.
    4. Hines Park Connector Framework Plan: Support a professionally led, community-driven Framework Plan for the Hines Park Connector, which will link the Iron Belle Trail and downtown Detroit with western Wayne County communities using the Rouge River gateway corridor, among other routes. New non-motorized access to routes from neighborhoods surrounding Hines Park will be explored-29 potential access points are already identified. Preservation and potential for repurposing of the historic Ford Mill sites to a use compatible with the park will also be explored.
    5. Gateways Feature Planning and Construction: Adding iconic entryway features to the north and west entry points of the Downriver Linked Greenways in Southwest Detroit and Flat Rock.
    6. Fort Street Bridge Park Construction: Transforming a neglected urban space into a landmark park in the city's most industrial zip code, 48217. The new park will commemorate the 1932 Hunger March, a major turning point in national labor movement history, and serve as a resting space along the Iron Belle Trail where the Downriver Linked Greenways, Detroit Greenways and connector to Hines Park Greenway intersect.
    7. Capacity Building and Project Sustainability: Ensuring long-term sustainability for our trail system, funds will go toward pursuit of implementation dollars for planning tasks moving forward and establishing maintenance agreements and ensuring that all aspects of the project remain on track and successful for many years to come.

    About Friends of the Detroit River

    Friends of the Detroit River, a nonprofit, was formed in 1992 by a group of citizens dedicated to preserving and maintaining the habitat of the Detroit River. Founded on the belief that coastal wetland habitats in the Detroit River are the responsibility and privilege of all of the area's citizens, FDR works to rehabilitate and restore many of the area's shorelines. The Detroit Riverkeeper program was established in 2002.


  • Hometown Life: Art Foundation pitches plan for arts complex at former Ford mill in Plymouth

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    Hometown Life reports on Tony Roko and the Art Foundation's proposed vision for the Wilcox Mill in Plymouth.

    Hometown Life: The plan would include sculptures designed by Wayne County children and crafted by local artists that would dot the landscape, and the interior of the mill would turn into an art gallery, a space for art workshops and classes and the headquarters for the Art Foundation, which is currently inside the Plymouth Arts and Recreation Complex.

    "Based on our research so far, it'll be the first of its kind," said Greg Hoffman, the executive director of the Art Foundation. "There are examples of child-designed sculptures around, but not necessarily a full park around that."

    More details on the project are expected to be revealed at a public meeting about the proposal, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Penn Theatre at 760 Penniman in downtown Plymouth. There, representatives from both the Art Foundation and Wayne County will be on hand to answer questions and showcase the project and its plans.

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  • Hour Detroit: Inside Artist Tony Roko's Plan to Transform a Historic Plymouth Mill

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    Hour Detroit reports on Tony Roko and the Art Foundation's proposed vision for the Wilcox Mill in Plymouth.

    Hour Detroit: Furthermore, the county has deed restrictions that will be able to protect the mills in perpetuity, says Annie Rubel, a preservationist at Clara and Henry Ford's Dearborn estate who's been involved in fact-gathering for Roko's project. "There's no reason to be concerned that future owners could put in a gas station or Starbucks or condos. It is unfortunate to me that this particular project is being hijacked as a symbol of corruption and Not In My Backyard-ism because the actual facts and intentions of Tony, Greg, and the County Executive's office point to this being a win for all those involved, including the folks who are against the project, ironically."

    Roko's project will come up for consideration before the Wayne County Commission in the fall. The most likely route will be through a public meeting of the 15-member commission's Committee of the Whole, and reviewing terms with Rahal and his economic development team. The committee would then pass the bid to the full commission for final approval. If approved, the actual construction could start next summer, with a five-year timeline.

  • Historic Wilcox, Newburgh mills sale approved, closer to reinvention

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    Redeveloping former Ford Motor Company mills will enhance Hines Park, better connect communities

    DETROIT - The Wayne County Commission today approved Purchase and Development Agreements for the Wilcox Mill, located in the city of Plymouth, and Newburgh Mill, located in Livonia, properties adjacent to Hines Park. The sales passed by a vote of 11-3. The Commission also approved an agreement for the County to acquire 16.73 acres in Westland from the Wayne County Land Bank that will be added to the Hines Park footprint.

    As part of the purchase and development agreements for both Wilcox and Newburgh, the County retains first right of refusal to repurchase the property should the new owners decide to sell them in the future. The sale price for 4.3-acre Wilcox site is $360,000 and $405,000 for the 1.8-acre Newburgh site. Revenue from the sales will be reinvested into Wayne County Parks.

    "This deal allows the transformation of the mills from eyesores into true community assets for Plymouth and Livonia while preserving an important part of our history," said Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans. "These projects also ensure the land surrounding the mills becomes publicly accessible and better connects Hines Park with surrounding communities."

    Wilcox Mill will be purchased by Mill on Rouge LLC created by local artist Tony Roko and the Art Foundation. They plan to rehabilitate the building into an art education space and construct a publicly-accessible "inner child sculpture garden" on the surrounding land that displays three-dimension realizations of children's drawings.

    Newburgh Mill will be purchased by Newburg Mill LLC operated by local developer Richard Cox. Once renovated, Newburgh Mill is expected to be a distillery with additional retail space as well as park space in the shape of a spiral, meant to reflect the automotive parts once manufactured on the site. Cox is responsible for the successful rehabilitation of the Northville Mill into modern office space. He also purchased Phoenix Mill in Plymouth Township from Wayne County in 2018 and has begun rehabilitating that property into an event facility with public green space.

    "We were at risk of losing these mills forever. These are the product of a collaborative effort to identify redevelopment solutions for these mills," said Assistant County Executive Khalil Rahal. "Our economic development team, Wayne County Parks, local leaders, and community stakeholders worked together throughout this process to ensure we crafted the right deal for both properties."

    Wilcox and Newburgh mills as well as Phoenix Mill and Nankin Mills were part of the "Ford Village Industries" network of parts factories located along the Middle Rouge River and were deeded to the County by the Ford Motor Company in 1948.

    Nankin Mills remains Wayne County property and houses the Parks Division's offices and an interpretive center, which recently underwent an approximately $800,000 renovation. The remaining three mills were largely used by the County as administrative and storage space.

    "The mill properties were essentially inaccessible to the public for more than 70 years," said Evans. "These deals ensure the development connects it with local communities and the larger network of non-motorized trails as well as enhances Hines Park with unique destinations that will celebrate our heritage."

    The sale of Newburgh and Wilcox was unanimously approved 7-0 by the Commission's Committee of Public Services on Tuesday, November 26. As part of the purchase agreement Wayne County acquires 16.73 acres of the former Hawthorne Valley Golf Course property in Westland and is required to maintain the property as a park creating pedestrian trails and other recreation or conservation improvements.

    "Acquiring additional park space will provide increased connections to Hines Park and recreational benefits to the community," said Beverly Watts, Director of Public Services for Wayne County. "This type of initiative supports the vision of our strategic master plan and future planning of our parks."