GM to buy historic Durant-Dort buildings in Flint, Mich.

GM to buy historic Durant-Dort buildings in Flint, Mich.
Andrew Thurlow
Automotive News | May 2, 2013 – 3:35 pm EST

General Motors has agreed to buy the original Durant-Dort Carriage Co. factory in Flint, Mich., a site GM North America President Mark Reuss calls “the birthplace of GM.”

GM plans to use the 133-year-old, 25,000-square-foot building as a showcase for its corporate history, Reuss told Automotive News.

The automaker also has agreed to buy the Durant-Dort office building, across Water Street from the factory, Reuss said during a speech at the United Way of Genesee County’s annual dinner on Wednesday.

Reuss referred to the office building as “the center of GM heritage,” where many of the company’s original documents and records remain.

Durant-Dort Carriage Co. was once one of the largest-volume producers of horse-drawn carriages in the country. It was owned by Billy Durant — who later became GM’s founder — and his former business partner J. Dallas Dort. Durant used his profits from the carriage company to acquire the troubled Buick Motor Co., the first in a string of automakers that eventually made up GM.

“Inside of the Durant-Dort [office building] is Billy Durant’s desk and his spittoon and all the records from carriage sales and financing. It’s all handwritten stuff,” Reuss said before his speech.

“We want to take the office and make it a little museum for people to get through, but the factory is big enough where we could actually have a really nice collection of Buicks … and hold dealer events there … and we don’t have to go pay to rent the Russell Bazaar,” he said.

GM spokesman Terry Rhadigan said, “Considering the building was built in the 1800s, [it’s] in remarkable shape.”

But over the years the Flint Historical Foundation, which maintains the office building, lacked funds to make needed repairs. Reuss said during his speech that GM is donating $50,000 to the Durant-Dort Carriage Company Foundation “to cover both its $25,000 annual budget and the repairs and renovation needed this year.”

The deal for GM to buy the buildings took place “in the original board room of the carriage company,” Reuss said.

Flint once had more GM employees than anywhere else in the world, Rhadigan said.

Today, GM has 7,500 employees at its two Flint plants — one that builds Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-sized pickups, and one that builds the engines including those for the Volt plug-in hybrid and the Cruze compact sedan — “so it’s still a hugely important part of our presence and our future there,” Rhadigan said.

Although GM recently announced plans to close a Flint area welding center, it is investing $215 million in city engine operations as part of $331.8 million in improvements to four of its manufacturing operations.

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling remains optimistic, telling that the agreement shows GM’s rededication to the area.

Said Walling: “For anyone who doubts General Motors’ commitment to Flint, look no further than the announcement that the original Carriage office building and the original Carriage factory building are going back into General Motors’ hands.”

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