Tthe Packard Plant in Detroit on July 16, 2013. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Detroit— Wayne County officials Wednesday canceled a Texas doctor’s $6 million bid for the Packard Plant after she couldn’t pay in time. Next up: Another would-be buyer whose promises have also fallen short.
Chicago-area developer Bill Hults has until the end of today to pay the county $2,003,000 for the massive 42-parcel plant after Jill Van Horn of Ennis, Texas, failed to produce a deposit on her $6 million bid.
The new asking price is twice as much as Hults could have paid to acquire the tax-foreclosed plant about two months ago. But he missed a series of deadlines from the treasurer to come up with the $1 million in unpaid taxes prior to September’s foreclosure auction.
Hults, like Van Horn before him, won’t disclose his investors and said cash isn’t an issue.
“If anything, my interest has increased,” said Hults, who wants to turn the facility on East Grand and Mount Elliott into a commercial, housing and entertainment complex. “I had it and then I lost it, and I’d like to have it again.”
But critics, including state Rep. Phil Cavanagh, D-Redford Township, said the topsy-turvy auction illustrates the failure of selling properties like the Packard to the highest bidder. The deal with Van Horn fell apart a day after her staff issued a three-page statement comparing Detroit’s potential to hydroelectricity and magnets and claiming she was prepared to buy all of Detroit’s vacant property.
“There’s a lack of leadership,” said Cavanagh, who ran unsuccessfully for county treasurer in 2008. “There needs to be more of a strategy with unique properties.”
Van Horn has no development experience but said she and her investors wanted to use the plant site to build modular homes and offices. Chief Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski said Van Horn asked for seven to 14 days to come up with $6 million on Wednesday afternoon. He said she can submit a proposal but “at this point we are sticking with the cancellation of the sale.”
Van Horn’s spokesman, Davis Marshall, questioned why the county can’t “wait three days for the $6 million” on a facility that has been largely vacant since the late 1990s and is the site of frequent fires. A Wayne State University law student was found dead in a vacant field near the plant Wednesday.
“We were basically trying to help the people of Detroit,” Marshall said.
Late Wednesday, Van Horn addressed concerns about the spelling error-filled letter her team wrote and released Tuesday that had county officials questioning the legitimacy of her bid, saying the statement that went out was “unscrutinized and unfortunate.”
“I really have no good explanation as to why someone on our team would submit something like that with not even using the invention called “spell check,” she wrote in an email.
She said she is still hopeful the bid will be reconsidered and she remains serious about helping Detroit.
“All of this is being proposed in an effort to help revitalize a city that really needs it,” she said.
Hults bid more than $6 million during a war with Van Horn, but Syzmanski said the county is “rolling back” the price to the last bid before the two began outbidding each other in the auction’s final hour Friday.
Szymanski also is meeting with the third highest bidder as a back up, Fernando Palazuelo, a developer from Lima, Peru. His last bid was $2,002,000.
Palazuelo told The Detroit News in an email that he is still interested in the site and is meeting with county officials in person. Palazuelo, the CEO of Arte Express, said he has bought, rehabilitated and leased 1.5 million square feet of dilapidated buildings in downtown Lima during the past six years.
Szymanski said his office doesn’t have the staff to vet buyers before the auction, but Van Horn was required to make a deposit of $5,000 that she has lost. As part of the Packard sale, the county will require the buyer to secure or demolish the property within six months or lose it.
John Mogk, a Wayne State University law professor and urban studies expert, said the treasurer is required by law to auction tax-foreclosed properties. He said $2 million is still a “far greater amount than anticipated.”
Joe Jaczkowski said he’s hoping that Packard gets another chance. Jaczkowski’s family moved to the neighborhood in 1909. And although he left in the late 1980s for the suburbs, he remains active in the nearby St. Hyacinth Roman Catholic Church on Farnsworth.
“Any sort of revitalization in that area would be great for us,” Jaczkowski said. “I just hope it is something that comes into being.”