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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'm pleased that the Wayne County Commission has approved purchase and development agreements for the historic Wilcox and Newburgh mills. These two former Ford Motor Company facilities, as well as the Phoenix Mill site, will be rehabilitated and opened for public use to preserve their history and improve connectivity between Hines Park and surrounding communities. This plan, dubbed "Mill Run," has three goals:

1. Activate park space that is currently underused and, ultimately, expand the 2,300 acres of Hines Park with the addition of at least 16.73 acres 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, Nankin Mills, which serves as Wayne County Parks' headquarters and as an interpretive space, recently completed an $800,000 renovation. This project greatly enhances the visitor experience with improved, hands-on exhibits and displays. We intend to continue making improvements to Nankin, so that it will remain Wayne County Parks' flagship facility for future generations.

The decision to sell Newburgh and Wilcox, legacy manufacturing properties underutilized by Wayne County for 70 years, was not made lightly. We concluded this is the most effective way to protect them and the history they represent. The new owners are required, as a condition of any sale, to maintain public green space and public access to the property in perpetuity.

We deliberately sought partners who are interested in contextual projects that will complement and enhance Hines Park. Additionally, the agreements for both Newburgh and Wilcox give Wayne County the "right of first refusal" to protect the public interest in these spaces. Essentially, this means the County has the right to repurchase the properties if the new owners ever seek to resell them.

With Commission's approval and after an extensive due diligence process, Wilcox Mill will be sold to the Mill on Rouge LLC and Newburgh Mill will be sold to Newburg Mill LLC. Both developers have community-supported plans for the properties that celebrate history and provide amenities to Hines Park.

Mill on Rouge LLC, in partnership with Tony Roko and The Art Foundation, will rehabilitate Wilcox Mill into an art education space with a publicly-accessible "inner child sculpture garden" on the surrounding property. Newburg Mill LLC, created by local developer Richard Cox, envisions restoring Newburgh Mill into a distillery as well as a spiral-shaped park space, meant to reflect the automotive parts once manufactured on the site. Mr. Cox, who restored Northville's Ford Valve Plant in 1994 and operates that space as the "Water Wheel Centre Building" has also begun rehabilitating Phoenix Mill as an event space with publicly-accessible parkland surrounding the building.

I am personally very excited to watch as these historic properties are transformed from eyesores to community assets. 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.

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.

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 (Phoenix, Wilcox, and Newburgh) were sold by Wayne County to selected developers in 2019.

How will the redevelopment of the mills preserve the history of the properties?

Phoenix Mill is now owned by Critical Mass, LLC. They intend to rehabilitate the property into an event space. Wilcox Mill is now owned by the Mill on Rouge, LLC. They are partnering with The Art Foundation to create an art education space in the former mill and construct an "Inner Child Sculpture Garden" on the surrounding property. Newbugh Mill is now owned by Newbug Mill, LLC. They intend to rehabilitate the mill into a craft distillery.

Purchase and Development Agreements with each of the developers require 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.

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. Additionally, the agreements for Wilcox and Newburgh mills provide Wayne County the first right to repurchase the properties with the owners wish to resell them.
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.
Does Wayne County have a plan to sell 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 have sold the mill 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.