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WARREN, MI-The former Arsenal of Democracy property here, where tanks were built to fight in World War II, has becomecommercialized. The former Warren Tank Plant on Van Dyke Avenue once bristledwith barbed wire and stood imposing with long buildings, guard towers andenormous cranes.

Today, the barbed wire is gone, the drab, brick, 1.1-million-sf building has been gutted and repainted blue and white, and new construction surrounds it like an mechanized ambush. Oliver/Hatcher of Wixom has spent months renovating the behemoth structureand its surrounding 153 acres. Most the property is under construction forvarious industrial and education uses, and an anchor has already signed upto fill almost half of the building. The cranes are about the only objectsstaying, says Oliver/Hatcher president Paul Hatcher.

Hatcher says his company, which handles large-scale renovation projects inthe Metropolitan Detroit area, has pretty much demolished the structureinside, leaving only the roof, walls and concrete floor.”We left everything but the crane bays,” he explains. “They might still use those.”

He tells GlobeSt.com that his personnel took a month just to learn what wasin the former tank building before ripping it all out, figuring out whatheating and cooling and electrical systems still worked, and if they couldbe reused. “The plant had its own power-generation facility, which we removed last month,” Hatcher reports.

This is not the largest undertaking by the company, Hatcher claims. He sayshis firm renovated a 1.3-million-sf former General Motors Corp.factory into a manufacturing, research and development and warehouse-distribution facility.

The company president says the building might have ceased to exist and been built over if ithadn’t been along a major industrial corridor. The property islocated near many of the Big Three’s automotive plants along Van Dyke,Mound Road and Eight Mile Road.”It still all depends on location, and what shape the building is in,”Hatcher states.

At least one area company has given the facility its approval. Noble International Ltd. of Detroit is going to make the plant–now known as the Warren Commerce Center–it’s newheadquarters. The automotive supplier is taking over at least 487,000 sf of the building left by the Army in 1996. The property is suburban Detroit’s only Renaissance Zone, meaning the metalforming and processing firm will pay virtually no taxes on its space for 15years.

According to Grub and Ellis, which is brokering the site, lease rates run between $4.95 and $5.50 per foot, with 600,000 sf still available.Carpenters’ Pension Trust fund, Detroit and Vicinity became the new ownersin January when they bought out former partner Crudo Equities LLC of Warrenfor 78 acres on the 153-acre plant property, including the large warehouseand manufacturing space.A partnership of Carpenters and Crudo purchased half of the land from the citytwo years ago, including the Army building. The other 75 acres went to otherprivate developers.Carpenter bought out Crudo’s interest and hired Centerpoint Propertiesof Oakbrook, IL, which has handled renovation of military property, asthe development manager.

Kojaian Cos. of Bloomfield Hills has built a 30,000-sf build-to-suitfacility for Johnson Controls on the site. The Macomb Community College isusing some of the space for a vocational training center. The city and theArmy also still own some of the land.

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