Thunderbird Lanes strikes a chord with digital company

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published August 8, 2017

TROY — Maple Road is bustling. 

The MJR Troy Grand Cinema 16 started things off when it opened its $16 million theater in June 2014 on the site of the former Kmart store. MJR has 74,000 square feet and 16 screens, including a 480-seat auditorium with an 80-by-48-foot screen, overstuffed lounge chairs, 56-inch spacing and a Dolby Atmos sound system.

The Planning Commission approved preliminary site plans for the Regency at Troy Skilled Nursing Facility, an assisted living and memory care unit on 8.23 acres at the southwest corner of Maple and Axtell roads on the site of the now-vacant McGregor’s manufacturing plant in May. 

On July 11, the Planning Commission unanimously approved plans submitted by A.F. Jonna Development and Management Co. for Somerset Shoppes on the northeast corner of Maple Road and Coolidge Highway. 

Those plans include demolishing the office building on the site, expanding the Whole Foods building, constructing two new buildings — one at the east property line and Maple Road, and one at the corner of Maple Road and Coolidge Highway — reskinning and redoing the architecture of retail buildings in the Whole Foods strip, consolidating two curb cuts on Maple Road into one and adding a second curb cut on Coolidge Highway, and reconfiguring the parking lot. Whole Foods is moving out of that space to a spot farther west on Maple Road in Birmingham in October. The developer does not yet have a tenant for the soon-to-be vacant spot. 

At a July 25 meeting, the Planning Commission unanimously approved preliminary site plans for  Midtown Place Apartments, 362 apartment units on 17 acres south of Maple Road, on the east side of Livernois Road, south of the MJR theater. A Farmer Jack grocery store on the site was recently demolished. 

The iconic Thunderbird Lanes, constructed in 1957 on Maple Road, west of Livernois Road — where the TV show “Beat the Champ” was filmed —  is bustling, but not with bowling balls. It is now home to a digital marketing company, 24G, with a client list that includes Google, Volkswagen, Nike and Microsoft. 

Scott Wiemels, co-founder and CEO of 24G, said he started the business in the basement of his Royal Oak home 10 years ago. After that, they expanded and renovated a former feed store on 14 Mile in Clawson, later expanding into a former dental office.

“The character and history (of the buildings) become part of the (company) culture,” he said. 

Wiemels said he purchased Thunderbird Lanes in January of 2016 when it was in receivership, and he spent 19 months and just over $1 million to renovate the 44,000-square-foot building into workspaces, preserving 10 bowling lanes and repurposing the wood from the other lanes and the material used in the tabletops. 

Krieger Klatt was the architect, and the Monahan Co. was the general contractor on the project. 

“We wanted to use as much of the facility as possible. It would have really been a shame to destroy such a beautiful building.” 

There is a company bowling league. 

“You think better when you move,” he said. “The sound of pins crashing has become therapeutic background noise. We have a lot of talented people (65 employees). We don’t outsource any programming.” 

He said the space inspires conversation about science, technology, engineering and math fields, and he hopes to host seminars and events in the space. 

Wiemels said people have come into the building to share stories of how they proposed to their wives at a bowling alley, and of a baby being born in a car in the parking lot. 

“We love Troy,” he said. “We’re excited to be in the city.” 

Glenn Lapin, economic development specialist for Troy, noted that Maple Road is a real mix of small industrial, retail and redevelopment. 

“It (24G) was an innovative company seeing an opportunity to create a real cool environment in that really great location on Maple,” Lapin said.