The now-defunct Pontiac division of General Motors stopped producing vehicles in 2009, but the car is still king at M1 Concourse facility located at the company's former industrial grounds in the city that share's the brand's name.
"I'm a car guy. I grew up around old cars, and my dad was into cars and customizing cars in our garage," said Birmingham resident Brad Oleshansky, CEO of M1 Concourse, an 87-acre playground for car enthusiasts that includes private garages, a 1.5-mile performance track and a private motorsports club. "I had a career as an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles for 12 years, then had a marketing firm and sold that and worked for a public company. I wasn't enjoying it, and I always dreamed of creating a place for car guys to hang out."
When General Motors filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in 2009, Oleshansky saw his chance to convert the company's idle facility on Woodward near South Boulevard into something new. With several others vying for the auto property, Oleshansky spent more than a year garnering the support of the city, Oakland County and the state.
"You can't just buy the land, you have to pitch the government on your idea. I was kind of an underdog – a lot of people wanted the property," he said.
Oleshansky also had to raise the funds for the project, as he said no banks would loan him the money. Developing a plan to sell private garages at the facility, Oleshansky said he pre-sold about 80 properties before ever breaking ground on the project, which finally commenced in 2015. Today, he has sold 170 properties, generating about $42 million in sales.
Catering to high-end car enthusiasts, the private garages sell between $150,000 to more than $1 million, and come with connected space that can be utilized for office, lounge, shop or other purposes. While the garages aren't permitted as residential homes or condominiums, they function as secondary offices, entertainment spaces or a glorified man-cave, of sorts.
"A lot of these garages are man-caves or corporate places for entertainment. Because we are close to everything, people use them more than anyone would think," Oleshansky said. "We have all sorts of people, from big-name auto executives to average Joe's that used to work at Ford. The garages are fairly expensive, but you could have a guy who is a billionaire next to four buddies who share a garage."
In addition to the garages, the M1 Concourse features a performance car track, skid pad and outdoor event area, which hosts private and public events throughout the year. Oleshansky said corporate sponsorships have also allowed for driving schools and other events he had never thought of holding. Plans also include building the largest corporate events center in the county, and adding retail tenants and a restaurant.
Oleshansky credits the timing of the industry trends as one of the main contributors to the business's success. However, he said it's metro Detroit's car culture that ultimately gave the idea wheels.
"I had a guy here visiting from LA, and people that don't live here don't understand Detroit. He said there are more Ferraris and Teslas here than in Beverly Hills, (California)," Oleshansky said. "I said, 'Here, if they have a car, they are a car guy. In Los Angeles, people have cars because they have money.' Here, they are true car people. It's a different mentality, and why we have had a lot of success."
Photo: Laurie Tennent