“There’s a preponderance of women here!” said Mort Horwitz, a resident of Jewish Senior Life’s…
Country Club For Gearheads
M1 Concourse plans August grand opening.
Woodward Avenue — the birthplace of cruising and the site of the world’s biggest one-day car event — is soon to be the home of a new $50 million dreamland for car collectors and motorsports enthusiasts.
M1 Concourse, the name of the 87-acre development on the northwest corner of Woodward and South Boulevard in Pontiac, a short drive north of Bloomfield Hills, will be open next spring with its grand opening celebration planned for Dream Cruise in August 2016.
When fully developed in about four years, the collectors’ paradise will include more than 250 car condos, a 1.5-mile performance track, restaurants and a car-themed shopping village, on-site car repair restoration and detailing; and an 8,000-10,000-square-foot event venue. M1 Concourse will feature year-round programming, including car shows, festivals, driving schools, vehicle demonstrations and more.
Man Behind The Idea
Born in West Bloomfield, Brad Oleshansky, 45, got the car bug early. “My dad was a hot rodder on Woodward,” he says. “He built and restored cars. I was his car detailer.”
After graduating from Andover High School in Bloomfield Township, Oleshansky left town for film school in Ithaca, N.Y. He then moved to Los Angeles to attend law school and, ultimately, became an entertainment attorney.
Oleshansky worked for a law firm in L.A., but ended up in the marketing side of the business, working for toy companies doing licensing and deals with studios. He and his wife, Alison, decided not to raise their children in L.A. and they headed east in 2004. Oleshansky joined Big Productions in Royal Oak, a marketing agency focused on the health care industry.
He started as chief operating officer and eventually became a partner and CEO, helping grow the company from seven people to 150 in four years. In 2008, the company was acquired by media conglomerate Meredith Corporation. Oleshansky continued on with the new owners for four years.
“When I ultimately decided to leave, I was looking for something tied to my passion for cars, but I didn’t want to work for a dealership or car company,” he said. “I thought about creating a product for the enthusiast market. I was always fascinated by the Woodward Dream Cruise.
“Metro Detroit has the largest concentration of classic cars in the world, by far. People have cars in their garages, their family’s garages, storage centers, warehouses and businesses. But no one has created a place for these enthusiasts to congregate as well as to store their vehicles.”
Oleshansky did his research, visiting auto-related destinations around the world, including racetracks, country club tracks, auto communities where suppliers have offices, museums and theme parks.
“Then I came across car condominiums, which I had never heard of before,” he said. “In Europe, they’re very big because they don’t have garages to begin with; and they need a place to keep a second or third car. And, I discovered they were successfully being developed in other cities in the U.S.”
His idea was to bring this storage solution concept to Detroit. “I thought this was a home run. Everybody’s got a car tucked away here it seems,” he said.
He began looking for a property more than three years ago. “I was looking for something on Woodward, with no luck. Everything was too expensive or not zoned properly.”
Then a friend, Matt Zurbrick (who now works on the M1 Concourse team), alerted him that a unique property had just became available on Woodward, north of Square Lake. “I drove up here and said, ‘Wow, this is massive.’”
But it wasn’t just a matter of buying the property. Because it was a former General Motors factory transferred into a government trust as part of the GM bankruptcy, he had to pitch his idea to the trust board and meet seven criteria, including eliminating blight, increasing tax revenue and creating jobs, among other things.
The property, owned by GM for decades, has its place in automotive history. It was the site of the Rapid Motor Company, a predecessor to GMC truck. It was 87 acres with 120-plus years of automotive history.
“Several of my developer friends said it would be very difficult for me to succeed in the bid process because I didn’t have a real estate background or political connections,” Oleshansky said. Still, he filled out hundreds of documents and met face-to-face with the trust representatives. “They said if I could get the support of the city, county and state, they thought it was a winner.”
Oleshansky’s idea was up against many other bids, including proposals for casinos and manufacturing. Pontiac City Council thought the idea was great, and Oakland County advocated for the project.
Oleshansky met with auto manufacturers and suppliers who suggested he add a performance track they could access for testing, training and marketing purposes, including ride and drives, and launch events. There were no modern tracks in the Detroit area. “They said, ‘If you have a track, we would rent the facility for a variety of events.’”
To build the track, Oleshansky had to get the support of community residents. The city held public hearings to garner the support he needed for approval.
“During the process, I realized that with just car condos and a private track it would not benefit the larger community. There are 50,000+ classic, exotic and muscle car owners within an hour of here, and the majority of them couldn’t afford to buy a garage for $100,000 or more. There are guys who own a car for $3,000 and it’s their pride and joy. That’s the beauty of the car scene: You can buy anything and still have fun.”
He wanted to create a destination where all enthusiasts could gather, with a restaurant, shops and big parking lots, and event space where people could come to a car show every night.
After Oleshansky purchased the land, he had 18 months to do all the environmental diligence, which cost a significant amount of money. “We drilled 180 holes across the site, like Swiss cheese, to test soil and vapor and a lot of things I didn’t know about. In the end, the environmental condition was way better than expected,” he said.
He funded the project himself for the first year and a half, and then decided to raise capital.
“I was very fortunate to find Paul Zlotoff of Uniprop, a real estate development and private equity company in Birmingham,” he said. “We structured a deal and became partners. He and his brother Roger contributed a significant amount of capital into the project.”
Zlotoff said, “I certainly liked the idea of rejuvenation of a derelict site as well as that it would revitalize a city, Pontiac, in desperate need of revitalization. I also thought it was interesting that Metro Detroit has one of the largest automotive cultures anywhere, but no auto attraction of any significance. The project has been a creative challenge.”
Banks were not interested in lending to them, so the partners decided to fund the project by pre-selling garages. “No one had ever done it before. We decided to sell 80 garages in six months. We created a structure where the buyers’ money went into escrow and, if we didn’t sell all 80 in six months, they would get their money back.”
They sold two sizes of garages in the first phase: 54 were 1,200 square feet at $225,000, and 26 were 600 square feet at $115,000. In less than six months, all 80 were sold, which represented the $15 million of initial capital required for the project. Phase 2 includes a variety of sizes from 509 square feet ($105,000) to 2,400 square feet ($500,000).
One of those people who bought a car condominium was Stanley Finsilver of Orchard Lake, a past president at Temple Israel. Finsilver describes himself as a car guy. He has a 1963 Corvette Split Window Coupe, a 1967 Corvette Roadster 427 and a 1964 Pontiac GTO convertible.
“I purchased my unit with two good friends who, like me, are car crazy,” he said. “We need space for the cars we own or hope to buy and want to be where others, like us, are crazy about cars.”
Finsilver and his friends bought a 1,200-square-foot unit. The space has room for about five cars on the floor with some room to walk around. “We will be putting in a mezzanine, bathroom and kitchenette (but no cooking). We’ll also have a BBQ,” Finsilver said. “Also, we are very seriously considering putting in car lifts for additional vehicle storage for up to 11 vehicles.”
Another early buyer was Jon Fellows, a neurologist who lives and works in Farmington Hills and has known Oleshansky for many years. “I first spoke with him about this project a few years ago at a bar mitzvah at Temple Israel where we are both affiliated,” Fellows said. “I was immediately excited about M1 — a country club for gearheads.”
He and his wife, Suzanne, purchased a 600-square-foot unit. Their goal is to install a lift to house two or three cars and build out an upper level loft space to hang out and entertain friends and family — all with an automotive and industrial feel.
“I hand wash and detail my own cars, and I plan to have the space outfitted with a complete detailing station. Most of my friends thought the idea was a bit crazy, but they are not car nuts. I say to myself, as long as Brad is developing the project, it’s going to be the finest in the country, and it will become a destination for many to enjoy,” Fellows said.
On June 24, 2015, they broke ground on the first 80 car condominiums. The project team includes George W. Auch Company (construction manager), inForm Studio (architect), Dickinson Wright (legal), Angelo Iafrate Construction (site work/infrastructure), Professional Engineering Associates (civil engineering) and SME (environmental consulting).
A top track designer, Martyn Thake, was engaged to oversee design and construction of the performance track. As of November, all nine buildings where the 80 units will be are up.
“At the same time, we’ve already sold half of the units in Phase 2,” Oleshansky said. “We’ve sold more than 110 of these garages, which is over $20 million of sales before we even open, which is incredible; and the market is way bigger. We have the capacity to build more than 250 garages, and I feel very confident we can sell every one of them.
“We sell a finished white box,” Oleshansky added, “but most owners will add things like second-story lofts with bathrooms, kitchens and offices.”
Buyers are varied. While most are individuals, they’ve sold units to big auto suppliers and space to auto dealers to deliver their vehicles. “If you’re selling a Corvette or a Bentley or a Lamborghini, it’s way better to deliver a car to a customer on a test track than on a parking lot in Troy,” Oleshansky said.
The buyers are predominately car people or enthusiasts, everyone from CEOs to entrepreneurs and doctors. “One guy is building a museum for his model ship collection, and a woman who got sick of renting places to do dinner parties is building an incredible private event space, with dining room and kitchen,” Oleshansky said. “It’s basically a blank canvas.”
Oleshansky is busy concluding a restaurant deal and booking the track for public and private events. A large portion of the project will ultimately be open to the public, where people can enjoy a walkable village of auto-focused businesses and year-round programming.
Eventually, M1-Councourse will employ 12-15 people directly, and the project will result in roughly 400-500 jobs in the property’s retail/office space.
“Dream Cruise will be our official opening, but we’ll have it open in June for the owners,” he added. “People don’t view this as a place only to store cars. This is about a lifestyle. It’s about hanging out with people who have the same passion.” *
By Managing Editor Jackie Headapohl and Contributing Writer Harry Kirsbaum.