Detroit— Who is Jill Van Horn of Ennis, Texas? And does she really want to pay more than $6 million for the crumbling former Packard Plant?
That’s the mystery following a last-minute bidding war that skyrocketed the price of the iconic auto plant in the final hours Friday of the Wayne County tax foreclosure auction.
County officials identified Van Horn as the winner of the auction, bidding $6,038,000. She remained unknown to county officials Friday evening. Records indicate there’s a family doctor in Ennis, Texas, by the same name. That doctor’s husband, George Van Horn, told The Detroit News initially that the final bid was "not right” before ending the phone conversation. But in a text message late Friday night he said it wasn't an error.
"We will be making a statement on Monday," he wrote. "Jill is the winning bidder as far as we know."
Bids soared from $601,000 shortly after 4 p.m. and continued for another hour. The winning bid came through an “auto bid,” a function of the auction that electronically increases bids by $1,000 if buyers are outbid.
Buyers can bid on properties if they put down a $5,035 deposit but are required to pay the full price by day’s end Monday. Chief Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski said if Van Horn falls through, he would offer the facility to the next highest bidder. Two other buyers continued to bid on the property after prices topped $2 million, so he said he thinks the county has backup buyers. Szymanski didn’t know their identities Friday.
“As with everything with Packard Plant, we hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” he said. “We hope they perform.”
Others were shocked, especially since it attracted no bids during a September sale that required bidders to pay the plant’s $1 million in back taxes. The October auction’s starting price was $21,000.
“I totally thought it would go for less than $1 million,” said Chris Meister, a Royal Oak architecture historian who has studied the Packard Plant. “I am thrilled that one way or another, somebody thought the property was worth it.”
The facility went up for auction this fall after Chicago-area developer Bill Hults missed deadlines to pay taxes and acquire the facility. Hults had worked with Szymanski for months to craft a deal to acquire the property and convert it to a commercial and housing development.
As a part of the sale, the county will require the buyer to secure or demolish the property in six months or the county can seize the property back.
The plant closed in 1956 but had tenants until the late 1990s, when many were driven out in a dispute between the purported owner and the city of Detroit.
Fernando Palazuelo, a developer from Lima, Peru, told The News in an email he initially bowed out at $601,000 but then said his final bid was $2 million.
More than 16,800 parcels went up for auction. The final tally wasn’t available Friday, but Szymanski said he believes the county set a revenue record.