A historic Ford Motor Co. plant that churned out millions of Model Ts could be opened up for tours and host a visitors center for Detroit-area auto tourism under plans by a community development group.

The Woodward Avenue Action Association hopes to buy and renovate part of the complex in the Detroit enclave of Highland Park, which was designed by noted architect Albert Kahn.

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It was home to the moving assembly line that revolutionized the auto industry, as well as the $5 average daily minimum wage credited with helping turn the working class into the middle class.

 Heather Carmona, the association’s executive director, said Thursday that the plant’s significance in the nation’s 20th-century manufacturing might is more relevant today as the U.S. auto industry and the Detroit area work to remake themselves following years of struggles.

“That rebirth we can use and tie to the history of the building,” Carmona said.

Dearborn-based Ford sold the complex decades ago to a private company. The automaker still uses part of the facility, which housed military production in World War II, to store machinery and company records, said Bob Kreipke, Ford’s corporate historian. Other companies also use parts of the former plant.

“It was quite a unique building,” Kreipke said.  :For a number of years, it was the largest inside manufacturing facility in the world.” He noted it also served as a model for Ford’s other assembly plants nationwide.

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A message seeking comment was left Thursday with the site’s owner.

The association is working to raise about $800,000 to buy part of the site, and estimates the renovation could cost nearly $8 million. It hopes to reach an agreement soon that could lead to the purchase of the part including the plant’s former administration building, which would be converted into the visitors center. That building is in disrepair, with some windows boarded up and the ceilings falling in.

The association estimates the renovation could take five years, but Carmona said tours could start sooner. It plans to seek individual, group and corporate donors, as well as state and federal grants.

 To help raise awareness, the association entered the plant into the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s  “This Place Matters” contest. Online voting through Sept. 15 offers the chance to win $25,000 for preservation efforts.

Woodward Avenue Action Association: http://www.woodwardavenue.org 

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 National Trust for Historic Preservation: http://www.preservationnation.org
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)