Historic former carriage factory to house automotive archive

FLINT — The historic Durant-Dort Factory One on Water Street will be converted into an archive and research center as part of a renovation project connecting the site’s rich manufacturing history with ongoing developments in the automotive industry, according to a recent press announcement.

General Motors, which owns the former carriage factory near downtown Flint, will invest several million dollars to create a modern archive to house the automotive collection currently located at nearby Kettering University. The archive and research center will occupy the first floor of the east wing of Factory One.

GM plans to develop the second floor of the east wing into a flexible meeting area for GM, community and educational groups to conduct STEM-related classes, seminars and, potentially, research. The high-bay area in the west wing of the facility will be renovated to house classic vehicles and other artifacts from Flint’s carriage-building era.

“Factory One truly is the epicenter of the automotive industry and, as such, it makes sense to create a world-class archive where anybody can learn how carriage builders in Flint launched the global auto industry,” said Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain.

GM purchased Factory One in 2013 and has invested approximately $3 million to repair the exterior of the building and install new windows and doors. The investment also covered the construction of a fence around the GM-owned parking lot across Water Street.

The next phase of the project, which is still being finalized, is expected to cost several million dollars and will include the installation of a new roof. SmithGroupJJR in Ann Arbor is the architect on the project and has experience in historic renovation projects as well as creating modern archives.

Once plans are finalized and a general contractor is selected, work on the archive and other interior projects could begin in early 2016 with the project completed in 2017.

In addition to renovating Factory One, GM is financially supporting the Durant-Dort Carriage Company office building across the street.

Located on the Flint River near downtown Flint, Factory One got its start in 1880 as part of the Flint Cotton & Woolen Mills Company. In 1886, the then-empty facility was leased by William Crapo Durant and Josiah Dallas Dort, who formed the Flint Road Cart Company.

Durant later took control of Buick Motor Company and leveraged his Durant-Dort resources to grow the fledgling automaker into one of the most successful car companies in the country. Durant used Buick’s success as the cornerstone on which he built General Motors, and, a couple of years later, he again turned to his friends from Flint’s carriage industry to form Chevrolet. — R.S.

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