TRAVERSE CITY — A growing company’s move to Garfield Township is breathing new life into a long-dormant commercial property, and sparked optimism about future development near LaFranier and South Airport roads.
Environmental Protection, Inc. purchased the expansive former Lear Plant complex at 1567 S. Airport Road last summer. EPI, formerly located on U.S. 131 near Mancelona, supplies plastic liners for water and waste containment to customers throughout the world.
Company President and Owner Dan Rohe said the old Lear building purchase represents a huge milestone for the business. The company is spending at least $400,000 to rehab the nearly 90,000-square-foot complex and plans to lease out roughly 25,000-square feet of warehouse space and ancillary buildings.
“There is so much innovation and technological advances in our field that by setting up here, it allows us to set up two different fabrication lines,” Rohe said. “It opens up a lot of doors for us.”
The property once was a bustling commerce center because of Lear, an auto parts manufacturer that employed nearly 1,000 people in its heyday. The plant’s closure in 2004 cost the community hundreds of jobs and led to the property’s slow decline. The Faith Reformed Church of Traverse City purchased the structure in 2008.
“The plans were to remodel and turn it into a church, and it didn’t pan out,” said Dave Anderson, associate pastor at Faith Reformed. “We are really excited to see it used by somebody, and we are also really excited to sell it because we aren’t in the business of holding real estate.”
Rohe said a group of men in Kalkaska founded EPI in 1980. The original purpose was to make pit liners to contain waste generated from oil and gas extraction. The company expanded with the assembly and installation of liners used in the Leelanau County landfill. Rohe’s father, Fred, was a general manager for the company in the 1980s and eventually bought it.