Brad Oleshansky '92, Shifts Gears
It’s a plot fit for a Hollywood movie: a major American automobile manufacturing facility, swept up in the tides of globalization, is forced to shut its doors. Its once-vibrant lot now a symbol of urban blight and industrial waste. And then, the plot twist: An investor and auto enthusiast swoops in to redevelop the space, and a once-barren automotive wasteland becomes a bustling, vibrant hub for auto enthusiasts, the financial spillover revitalizing the surrounding community.
It sounds like a movie, but it's not. It’s what has transpired in Pontiac, Michigan, since Brad Oleshansky ’92 realized his dream of opening M1 Concourse, a gathering place for car lovers just 30 miles outside Detroit, America’s famed “Motor City.”
A Michigan native, Oleshansky says he always had a fascination with cars. “I grew up around old cars. My dad was a car enthusiast and built cars in our garage.”
After he graduated from Ithaca with a degree in film, Oleshansky moved to Los Angeles, where he attended law school. He graduated from law school in 1995, and stayed in California to practice entertainment law at notable companies like Disney and Sony. Oleshansky says he leveraged the alumni network quite a bit when he lived in Los Angeles.
In 2004, he moved back home to Michigan to take a job with Big Communications, a small marketing company focused on the pharmaceutical industry. Under Brad’s leadership, the company experienced rapid growth and was bought by Meredith Corporation in 2008. Oleshansky stayed on as CEO for the next four years, but his true passion – cars – was always top-of-mind. This time, he had plan. “I envisioned the idea to create a destination for car enthusiasts since metro Detroit has the largest concentration of collector cars in the world—over 100,000.”
Oleshansky spent more than a year researching his idea and looking for the perfect piece of property. He found it about 30 miles outside of Detroit, in Pontiac, Michigan, on what was formerly an 87-acre factory site for General Motors. To a lay person, the site was two million square feet of concrete and rubble overgrown with weeds. To Oleshansky, it was perfect. He bought the site from the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response (RACER) Trust in 2013. RACER took over GM’s bad assets when the automaker was in bankruptcy.
But it wasn’t a done deal. It took several more years to get the required approvals and finalize plans. And then, there were the naysayers. “Most people, including family, thought I was crazy,”Oleshansky remembers. “Many prominent developers and auto industry people said my vision was too grand and not possible. The fact that I had no real estate or development experience ...made people scratch their heads.”
Oleshansky persevered, and on August 15, 2016, his vision, M1 Concourse, opened its doors to the public. The $50 million, 87-acre complex is the largest of its kind in the U.S. It includes a 1.5-mile race track and 250 private luxury garages (“car condos,” they’re called), where owners can store or work on their vehicles. The condos range in price from $105,000 to $550,000. An experiential retail area, including public restaurantsand auto-centric stores is slated to open in summer 2018 with its first tenants.
Oleshansky says the excitement – and revenue – from M1 Concourse are spilling over into greater Pontiac. “We have become one of the largest tax payers in the city and eliminated significant blight. The surrounding neighborhoods have experienced an increase in property values, and we have become very involved in local philanthropy. Residential property values have increased 400% in certain adjoining neighborhoods and commercial property values have climbed 12 times.”
What’s more, he says, other businesses are moving to Pontiac and parcels of land, which had long been vacant, are now being purchased and redeveloped.
Oleshansky credits Ithaca for teaching him how to merge his creative side with business, as well as how to persevere and manage his time. Today, he stays connected to the college, and this past summer he hosted a group of students at M1 Concourse who were in Detroit for an alternative spring break project. He’s also learned an important lesson in hindsight, one he’d share with anyone who has a passion that might not align with what they studied in college. “Don’t wait 25 years like I did to find a way to combine your passion (whatever it is) with your career...focus on what you love, not the status quo.”