ATTRACTIONS: Tours of Ford plant will resume in 2004
December 4, 2002
BY FRANK PROVENZANO
DETROIT FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
The world's largest automobile manufacturing center, Dearborn's Rouge complex, is about to become a tourist attraction again.
Tuesday, Ford announced it will fund Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village's public tours of the new, state-of-the-art plant as part of its $2-billion investment in factory at its 1,100-acre site. Tours are to begin in spring 2004, several months after the plant is completed.
The Rouge complex is the birthplace of the Model A assembly line and the magnet of opportunity that attracted workers from around the world to the cultural melting pot of metro Detroit. It is also home to an assembly plant that auto industry analysts call the future of environmentally responsible manufacturing.
"People will see the complexity of how vehicles are made," said Roger Gaudette, manager of construction at the Ford Rouge Center. "This isn't a commercial for Ford but a statement about the region's heritage."
Details of the tours came on the day when Ford displayed the redesigned 2003 F150 truck which, along with the Ranger pickups and possibly the Explorer, will be assembled at the plant. The F150 truck is America's best-selling vehicle.
Highlights of the 1 1/2-hour tour:
After parking at the museum, a 15-minute shuttle ride will take visitors to the plant. Along the way, an overview will be presented on the reasons the Rouge complex is a national historic landmark.
A short film will be shown in the on-site visitor center using archival images and background on the features of the new pollution controls at the assembly plant. It will also mention the infamous pollution of the Rouge River and the early struggles between management and labor.
A digital film virtual experience will simulate contemporary manufacturing, from feeling the heat of a furnace blast to seeing the installation of a windshield. The theater features a circular screen with seats that swivel 360 degrees.
An elevator ride will go to the top of the plant for a panoramic view of the facility.
A quarter-mile walking tour will be along a ramp 16 feet above the plant floor.
Interactive kiosks will be stationed at each stage of assembly.
A showroom will have legendary Ford vehicles, including the Model A, Mustang and the F150.
"We need cultural attractions that link the past to the present as a way to distinguish our community," said Steve Hamp, president of Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, which was created by automotive pioneer Henry Ford. "Making cars is who we are, and we can't ignore it."
If the tours of the Ford plant inspire other ventures at the region's historic sites and manufacturing centers, it could transform the local tourism economy, said Renee Monforton, spokeswoman at the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"Auto tourism is by far the most requested event to see from people inquiring about traveling to Detroit," she said. "People want to come to Detroit to see how cars are built, and we have to live up to our brand as the world capital of the auto industry."
A 10-year economic impact projection created last year by the bureau's Tourism Economic Development Council points to the promise of the region's cultural tourism. Revenue from tourist attractions at the Ford plant and other possible historic sites -- such as the highly anticipated expanded Motown Museum -- could bring an additional $3 billion to the projected $4.6 billion over the period, Monforton said.
Coming within a year of 19 layoffs at Greenfield Village, and a month after the defeat of a proposed property tax increase that would have provided $4 million annually to the museum, the partnership with Ford provides a new model of how museums need to become more entrepreneurial, said David Littmann, chief economist for Comerica Bank.
"This is the type of link that will continue to raise revenue for the museum during the ups and downs of the state economy," he said. "The museum has found a niche, and a natural tie-in to the heritage of our economic pre-eminence."
Revenue from tour ticket sales will go to the museum. No ticket price has been set. It's expected that demand will far exceed the 250,000 people annually who toured the Rouge complex in the final years before tours ended in 1980.
At peak periods of employment, more than 100,000 people worked at the plant, which opened for public tours in 1924.
"Inside looked like fire and brimstone, and a bit of magic," says Mike Smith, director of the Walter P. Reuther Library, who recalled touring the Rouge plant when he was an elementary school student in Garden City. "In one end went the steel. Out the other, came a polished car."
The story of the Rouge complex shouldn't solely focus on manufacturing innovations, he said.
"That plant is a symbol of the ongoing trials and tribulations of organized labor," said Smith, who noted that it's the site of the infamous Battle of the Overpass in 1937, when labor organizers were beaten by Ford's security forces.
"Generations of Detroiters passed through the Rouge," he said. "It's the place that gave birth to our gritty, industrial attitude.'
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....