Motor Wheel Reborn
Originally built in 1916, the building on the northwest corner of Saginaw and Larch streets had been vacant for some 35 years before Hepler purchased it in 1996. Known as the Prudden Building, the facility had been home to the W. K. Prudden Company, at one time the world’s largest producer of both wood and steel tires. Founded in 1898 by Georgia-born William Prudden and renamed Motor Wheel in 1920, by 1924 the company employed as many people as the State of Michigan did in 2000. By 1934, Motor Wheel controlled one-third of the nation’s wheel business, more by far than any other single manufacturer.
By 1964, Motor Wheel had become a subsidiary of Goodyear Tire and Rubber. In 1974, Hayes Wheels acquired Motor Wheel, and the following year the factory was vacated.
Hepler’s vision for the site has been to create condos for the modern sensibility while retaining the architectural integrity and design details of the original structure. An interest in and commitment to environmental sustainability informs every design and construction decision.
According to Hepler, “We offer 15 different floor plans, and our units range in size from 580 square feet to 3000 square feet. Right now, we are renting the units but will be converting to condos within the next five years. Many of our tenants have already signed long-term leases which will allow them to buy when we do change.
“Throughout the building, we have done our best to meet LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] standards, and we are currently going through the process to become LEED certified. Throughout the building, all appliances are Energy Star. Because of the high energy efficiency of our heating and cooling systems, average bills are much lower than on comparably sized homes. The carpeting throughout the halls and common areas is all recycled. The windows measure 9 feet by 18 feet and are all historically accurate as well as energy efficient. Based on a design by architect Albert Kahn, they are manufactured by TRACO, the same company that made the windows for the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. Especially useful in urban environments, they let in light without overheating and reduce outside sound to a whisper.”
The 13-foot ceilings give an open and airy feel that is reinforced by the large windows and a neutral color palette. The original concrete floors have been sandblasted and covered with a water-based clear coating made by a local dealer, O’Leary Paint. This flooring option is not only durable and economical but also easy to maintain and has that city-chic look so popular today. Exposed raw surfaces lend urban ambiance and industrial style to the space.
The lighting throughout is low voltage, replicating natural, pure light. Kitchens feature maple cabinets with granite countertops and high-end, stainless steel appliances, including washers and dryers, all top rated for energy efficiency.
Bathrooms are luxurious but continue the theme of environmental responsibility. Cabinets made from recycled cardboard replicate the look of expensive wood and feature above-the-cabinet sinks.
Some units include bedroom doors which slide across openings like old-fashioned barn doors. With opaque panels made of recycled soft-drink bottles and inlaid with native Michigan grasses, they are but one example of design flair coupled with green consciousness.
Hepler explained, “We have a large recycling room where residents can bring their recyclables, and we have arranged for regular pickups.”
He continued with other details, “For a small fee, our residents have access to an E-85 Suburban and a driver, we have two on staff, for commutes or other transportation needs. We have a well-equipped workout room overlooking Saginaw Street and the park across the way. We’re in the planning stages for a central green space with trees and other plantings along with water features.Nine of our units have decks overlooking this space, but the space will be available to all our residents.”
The building also houses the Lansing Police Department Ninth Precinct and commercial tenants.
Since 1989, Hepler has rehabbed over 500,000 square feet of space in Downtown Lansing. Other projects include the former Blue Coyote Brewing Co. across the street from Clara’s restaurant which has been renovated to include loft residences and office space, and the Race Street Mill in Old Town, now home to Clark Hill Attorneys at Law. In the future is Hepler partnering in the renovation of the downtown YWCA, currently vacant. Born and raised in Lansing, Hepler is a Lansing Community College alumni and committed to the concept of urban living. Currently living downtown, he will be moving into one of his own Motor Wheel Lofts when construction on it is complete.
According to Hepler, “I want to bring high tech to historic buildings. It’s a challenge but also a great opportunity.”
Turning industrial space into urban living is an imaginative alternative to suburban sprawl and long commutes, providing easy access to the city’s cultural and entertainment possibilities. Creative and innovative developers like Harry Hepler are bringing that metropolitan style to Lansing. Spacious, modern and unique, Motor Wheel Lofts offer a harmonious blend of old and new, the best of the past combined with the possibilities of the present.
700 May Street
Harry H. Hepler, President