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— Mayor Mike Duggan Thursday helped celebrate the $750,000 renovation of a building at the historic Packard plant, the massive former auto facility on the east side that's starting to be cleaned up after decades of neglect.

For years, the former Packard facility deteriorated into a hazardous playground for artists, thieves and tourists eager to explore one of the city's most notorious ruins.

Last year, most of the 3.5-million-square-foot space was bought by Spanish investor Fernando Palazuelo for just over $400,000. His group has begun to clear out debris, the first step in a 10-to-15 year plan to find new life for the 40-acre site.

In an separate sale last fall, a Detroit business called The Display Group bought the former Packard Building 22 at 6235 Concord along 1-94. The building was once used for production of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine for the P-51 Mustang planes during World War II.

Display Group, an event specialist company, has already moved into the building, and is working on a 10,000-square-foot major event space and showroom in the 255,000-square-foot building. The building was empty for about five years, but its decline was not nearly as bad as other parts of the Packard plant. .

Duggan said The Display Group's move is reflective of the many former empty Detroit buildings that have found new life.

"This is so much what Detroit is all about today. You see Midtown buildings that were vacant for 20 years, and now occupied," Duggan said.

Duggan also said that next week the city will announce it has found a new use for the former Southwestern High School building, which closed two years ago and has been thoroughly looted. Duggan didn't provide any more detail.

Display Group president Rick Portwood he was happy to have his company be part of the city's revitalization.

"We are delighted to be fully restoring and upgrading a building that is an important part of the history of Detroit, particularly in this long-neglected part of the city," Portwood said. "I had very fortunate timing, as it looks like the main Packard Plant is about to start its renovation."

Display Group renovations have included repairing office areas, and installing new lighting and heating equipment. Within five years, it has plans to renovate the cafeteria for food service, restore the second, third and fourth floor offices for rentals and upgrade the parking lot.

The business needs a lot ofspace because it offers custom display and fixtures for major corporate events and trade shows. In 2004, the company moved intoa renovated 200,000-square-foot office, warehouse and production facility in Detroit's Corktown.

Portwood said he has found a new tenant for his Corktown facility at 1700 West Fort.

laguilar@detroitnews.com

Twitter: LouisAguilar_DN

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