A proposal to build several dozen fancy, souped-up garages near Detroit Metro Airport could determine whether the local market for “car condos” has real depth or is a one-off fad.
John Ottino, 67, of Ypsilanti, began taking reservations last week for the 60 garage condos planned for the $10-million first phase of Heritage Farms Motorplex. A former drag racer, Ottino wants to build in Wayne County’s Huron Township on the site of the failed Pinnacle Race Course horse track. The site would be redeveloped into 522 units in several phases.
The developer must first sell a minimum 40 reservations this summer for his project’s chief financial backer to give the green light to buy the 312-acre site from a private owner and to start construction. The refundable reservations are $500 for any of the condos, which would range in price from $78,750 for 525-square-foot units to $360,000 for the largest 2,400-square-foot units. They all come with bathrooms and air conditioning.
The target shouldn’t be a problem if Ottino’s Motorplex experiences anything like the early success of the M1 Concourse project along Woodward in Pontiac, which has defied car condo skeptics and already sold out its first two phases — more than 130 climate-controlled condos — well before its planned Aug. 14 grand opening. And spots are filling fast for its future Phase III.
“We are selling two to three units a week,” said M1 developer Brad Oleshansky. “I knew that people would buy them, but I didn’t think we’d be selling this many before we opened.”
Car condos are communities of climate-controlled storage garages that generally store multiple vehicles and can be outfitted with living room-like amenities, such as carpeting, furniture and big-screen TVs. Many car condos feature two floors: one for showing cars, one for hanging out.
A few ambitious car condo owners have even customized their spaces with basketball courts, golf simulators or model antique gas stations.
The overall concept is still quite new, with developments popping up in markets including suburban Chicago and Minneapolis. M1 is the first full-scale car condo development in Michigan.
In 2004, John Ottino is photographed with a 1977 Ferrari GTB at the Concorso D’Italia at Meadow Brook. He is the developer of the Heritage Farms Motorplex, a garage condo that may be built in Wayne County’s Huron Township, on the site of the failed horse track known as Pinnacle Race Course. (Photo: John Ottino)
Ottino’s project still faces several big challenges, including its more remote location compared with M1 Concourse and the unknown depth of the area’s car condo market. The Motorplex won’t have a performance track completed by opening day. Ottino plans a 2.5-mile racing-certified track that would take two years to build after the initial car condos open due to the track’s estimated $10 million to $15 million construction cost.
The M1 Concourse, by comparison, will open with a 1.5-mile track fully operational.
“Once the car condos are up and running it will draw a lot more interest to that area, and it might be easier to find sponsors to help us get it built,” Ottino said, noting how it’s still somewhat rare for car condos to have their own track.
According to those in the car condo industry, the phenomenon grew from a desire among certain car collectors and enthusiasts to have a place to store their vehicles, show them off and socialize with others who share their passion. The types of cars found within condos range widely, from exotic Ferraris to restored Firebirds to antique Packards.
“I’d say it’s a small part of a small subculture,” said Tom Burgess, owner and developer of the eventual 160-unit Iron Gate Motor Condos project in Naperville, Ill., which opened last year.
“Oftentimes people think that all these guys out here are pretentious — and nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “When you come out here on a Saturday you can’t tell if this guy owns a big company or is CEO of a big company, they’re just car guys and there’s no pretense.”
The M1 Concourse is unique not only its on-site track, but also its central location within a metro region rather than on the outskirts. Some of M1’s early buyers were auto supply companies that intend to use their condos as corporate hospitality suites.
One car condo-like project in suburban Toledo, formally called Stone Oak Business Condominiums, bills itself as “Toledo’s first luxury mancave concept” and has the website mancavecondos.com.
But even though most car condo buyers are men, there is pushback against defining the condos as male-only space.
Heritage Farms Motorplex
- Would redevelop the site of the failed Pinnacle Race Course in Huron Township.
- Developer needs to sell 40 reservations this summer to get go-ahead from a chief investor
- Phase I would have 60 car condos priced from $78,750 to $360,000.
- A proposed 2.5-mile performance track would be built 1 1/2 to 2 years after the first condos
- A total 522 car condos possible
- Reservations are $500 and refundable
- Interested buyers can visit listings at gearheadhomes.com