Welcome to the Mill Run Placemaking Project

Wayne County's Parks Division and Economic Development Corporation announced an initiative in 2018 to seek partners to redevelop three historic mills once operated by Henry Ford along the Middle Rouge River.

The Mill Run Project envisions transforming these sites, currently owned by the County but not publicly accessible, into destination attractions with public uses and interpretative space as well as better connections between the mill properties' green spaces and Hines Park trails and facilities.

On this page, you will find detailed information about the history of the mills, plans to reactivate them, as well as updates about community events and news of the project's progress.

Preserving History, Improving Wayne County Parks

A message from Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans


As an avid outdoorsman who is never happier than when I'm fishing or riding horses with my grandchildren, I believe that caring for the Wayne County Parks system is among my most important responsibilities as County Executive. Space for recreation is critical to the quality of life for all residents and I know Hines Park is a reason many residents choose to live in Western Wayne County.

With that in mind, I'd like to share details about our plans for three historic Ford Motor Company mill properties in Hines Park. While this plan, dubbed "Mill Run," does involve selling specific parcels, it will ultimately result in an expanded Hines Park. We have three goals of Mill Run:

1. Activate park space that is currently underused and, ultimately, expand the 2,300 acres of Hines Park by adding at least 16-29 acres or more to the Hines Park footprint;

2. Incorporate Hines Park into a broader effort to better connect parks and trails with the communities around them; and

3. Reuse three historic mill properties built by Henry Ford before they are lost for good.

Additionally, we plan to continue maintaining and improving Nankin Mills, which serves as Wayne County Parks' headquarters and a popular interpretive space used by Wayne County residents of all ages.

We've decided to market the legacy manufacturing properties for sale after determining it is the most effective way to protect them and the history they represent. Buyers will be required, as a condition of any sale, to adaptively reuse the mills. They will be also required to include public space in their redevelopments that honors the history of these sites. We are seeking partners who are interested in contextual projects that will complement and enhance Hines Park such as restaurants, breweries, art galleries, bike shops, and similarly scaled enterprises.

Our first development agreement, for the Phoenix Mill property, lays out strict requirements for the developer to maintain public green space and public access to the property in perpetuity.

Among southeast Michigan counties, Wayne County ranks last in terms of trail miles per 1,000 residents. This plan will create more trail miles and better connect our trails with each other and with the state's larger network of recreation trails. The rehabilitated mill properties will be destination attractions along Hines Park's trails for bicyclists, runners, and history enthusiasts. The revenue from the sale of Mill Run properties will be reinvested into the infrastructure that supports the park.

I strongly believe the Mill Run plan will strengthen Hines Park as a world-class regional destination for recreation. Hines Park is one of Wayne County's jewels. I believe the Mill Run project can make it shine that much brighter.

Warren C. Evans

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Mill Run project?
Mill Run is a placemaking project to enhance the County's natural and cultural assets in and around Hines Park and the Middle Rouge River. The project focuses on connections, recreation, and activation through the redevelopment of the Ford Village Industries Mills, trails, and park improvements. It aims to improve and better connect Hines Park bicycle and pedestrian trails with the state's larger network of recreation trails. The project also seeks to better link these trails by creating new connections to neighborhoods, community downtowns, and other parks across the region. Through public-private partnerships, Mill Run will reactivate three historic mills in Hines Park as public spaces consistent with Hines Park's purpose and sense of place.

We believe Mill Run presents a rare opportunity to undertake a unique placemaking project that preserves Wayne County's cultural heritage and improves the quality of life for residents and Hines Park visitors.
What is the historic significance of the mills?
Henry Ford established the Village Industries Mills in the 1920s and 30s throughout what was then rural Southeast Michigan. These industrial properties were powered by hydroelectricity and produced automotive parts. They were re-tooled during World War II to assist the war effort, some employing women who were part of the female wartime workforce known as "Rosie The Riveter."

Four of the original mills and surrounding land along the Middle Rouge River were deeded to Wayne County in the 1930s and 40s by Ford Motor Company. One of those facilities, Nankin Mills which will remain in County ownership, functions as a museum and as the headquarters for the Wayne County Parks Division. The remaining three mills under County ownership are Phoenix, Wilcox, and Newburgh.
How will the redevelopment of the mills preserve the history of the properties?
Our goal is to preserve and celebrate the cultural and architectural significance of the mill properties, which is currently at risk. The redevelopment of the historic mills will be completed in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings. All developers will be required to pursue listing the property on the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places. It is our goal to have creative historical interpretation components as part of each development and reuse.
How will these sales benefit Hines Park?
In addition to restoring the historic mills for uses complimentary to Hines Parks, adding 16-29 acres to the park's overall footprint, and better connecting park trails, all revenue from the sale of these properties will be reinvested into the park infrastructure that supports it. In addition to active recreation park improvements, environmental conservation and habitat restoration will improve sustainability of the park and the watershed.
What kind of developments will take place in the mills and how will they affect Hines Park?
Wayne County is only interested in development agreements for projects that will create complimentary experiences for Hines Park. Opportunities for restaurants, breweries, art galleries, and bicycle shops are some of the concepts envisioned. We are working with each municipality to define those developments and uses appropriate for local communities. Mill Run is, first and foremost, a parks enhancement project. Mill Run will create more recreation opportunities to enhance Hines Park and surrounding communities. The economic development value of the project for both the County and private partners is linked to the intrinsic value of Hines Park as a recreation attraction and natural resource preserve.
What happens if a developer sells the property?
In the event that the purchaser sells the properties, the subsequent owner must agree to restrictive covenants that protect the exterior of the building and ensure that all future alterations are completed in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. The buildings may not be demolished, removed, deconstructed, or moved from their present location, unless such action is consistent with those Standards. These requirements will be recorded with the Register of Deeds in perpetuity.
Will these developments be open to the public and have public park access?
Yes, these properties will be opened to the public. Phoenix Mill is currently gated off and closed to the public. As part of its redevelopment plan, Phoenix Mill will include a garden and park area with flower beds, bicycle parking, and walking/biking trails. Wayne County will also require all redevelopment of Wilcox and Newburgh Mills to be open to the public and integrated into the park for public use and enjoyment. This will include improvements to recreational assets and connectivity to neighborhoods and downtowns.
What protections does the County have that developers will honor your promise to protect Hines Park?
Wayne County will only undertake the sale of these properties through development agreements that legally protect Hines Park and the historic mill structures.
Why is Wayne County selling this park land to private developers instead of rehabbing the mills itself?
The reality is we couldn't properly undertake such a project without reallocating funds from somewhere else-roads, public health, existing parks programs, etc. Additionally the ongoing maintenance costs would likely create new long-term costs for taxpayers if Wayne County restored and maintained the mills. Partnering with private developers who share our vision for Mill Run and are willing to agree to a development agreement that legally binds them to that vision is the most fiscally responsible and efficient method to restore the mills for adaptive reuse. Wayne County simply does not have the resources to do so alone.
Why doesn't Wayne County lease these properties instead of selling them?
First and foremost, it is difficult to attract partners willing to invest in this kind of redevelopment if they don't own the property. Second, by transferring the property to private owners the County and local communities will be able to collect property tax revenue and the developers will be able to utilize federal historic tax credits to rehabilitate them, as well as address any environmental contamination present on these former industrial sites, as well as address any environmental contamination present on these former industrial sites. We couldn't do either if the County government was landlord.
Does Wayne County have the right to sell these properties?
Yes. Before beginning the project, Wayne County's Corporation Counsel carefully reviewed our responsibilities and obligations with regard to these properties. Initially, some of these parcels were donated to the County by the Ford Motor Company with deed restrictions. However, subsequent "quit claim" transactions erased those deed restrictions. While the record is incomplete as to why the original donors chose to strike those deed restrictions, it is clear Ford Motor Company did not limit Wayne County's flexibility to find the best use for these properties.

Regardless of the legal technicalities, Wayne County recognizes a moral obligation to ensure these properties remain, in essence, public and recreation space. We believe the overall plan is consistent with the spirit of the initial donation of these properties. Our goal is to enhance and expand Hines Park.
Does Wayne County have a plan to continue to sell more park land?
No. Hines Park is not being sold off for strip malls and subdivisions. In fact, the overall result of Mill Run will be to expand Hines Park by as much as 16-29 acres or more. We are selling these parcels because we believe public-private partnerships are the best way to preserve and reuse these mills in a way which respects their historic integrity. Mill Run will ultimately strengthen and enhance the park by creating more access points to the park and upgrading trails and bridges in the Hines Park and the Holliday Nature Preserve.