Flint is a car town. It started around 1900 when Flint's William Durant, whose company was the country's largest manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages, saw the promise of the new motorized carriage technology and used carriage parts to manufacture Durant motor cars. He converted some lumber mills and carriage factories on the Flint River just a block from downtown to start manufacturing the new horseless carriages in 1904. Durant's company, along with Buick, Chevrolet (which Durant co-founded), and others he bought, became General Motors (GM). Over time, 17 manufacturing and assembly buildings on the 60-acre site became collectively known as Chevy in the Hole. At its peak, over 8,000 workers were employed there.
Today the property is quiet - a contaminated legacy of its industrial past. But work by EGLE and a suite of partners is transforming the one-thriving site into a new, revitalized 21st Century community asset.
The original Durant manufacturing site has a long and storied past. Events there made history that goes far beyond Flint's city limits. The newly formed United Auto Workers union's first major sit-down strike for worker protections and fair wages was at Flint's GM and Fisher Body plants in 1937. The Corvette was designed in Flint and its prototype was built at Chevy in the Hole in 1953.
In the 1970s, American auto manufacturing went into a decades-long decline. By the 1990s, the last Chevy in the Hole production buildings had closed. Demolition continued through 2004. GM went through bankruptcy. In 2013, the city of Flint became the owner of the blighted, contaminated, historic property.
Redeveloping Chevy in the Hole is critical to the city's revitalization. In fact, it's the centerpiece of the Flint River Restoration Plan, a vision that transforms the city's neglected riverfront into a community asset for recreation and economic development. The site's name was changed to Chevy Commons - honoring its place in automotive history and looking forward to its new life as a public greenspace.
Redeveloping a contaminated 60-acre site takes partnerships. The city of Flint and partners including the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the city of Flint, Genesee County Land Bank Authority, Kettering University, and Genesee County Parks are working to remediate and redevelop the site formerly known as Chevy in the Hole.
Both soil and groundwater at Chevy Commons are contaminated. It's not feasible to excavate contaminated soil from across a 60-acre site. Some of it is under building foundations that were left behind after demolition. Instead, abandoned factory floors and paved surfaces will be buried under a soil and grass cap. This will protect people and wildlife from high levels of soil contamination and control the movement of water. EGLE will abandon hundreds of storm sewers and outfalls to the Flint River to prevent contaminants in the soil and groundwater from entering the river. When capping is finished, open meadows, woods, and wetlands will be connected by trails to neighborhoods, schools, and regional trail networks.
EGLE capped 24 acres of the site in 2018 and is leading the final phase of construction over nine acres in 2020. Kettering University has redeveloped 20 acres of the site into a student automotive research facility/proving grounds - the only one in the country on a college campus - to research and develop vehicle technologies like self-driving cars. It's a fitting new use for the original home of William Durant's horseless carriage.
Want to see more? These interactive drone photographs were collected by EGLE in 2017.