$500 sale of former American Motors Corp. in limbo

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Odell Sturdivant keeps his living room blinds closed even during the day so he doesn’t have to glimpse his neighbor, the former headquarters of American Motors Corp.

The former American Motors Corp. headquarters, which sits derelict along Plymouth Road near Schaefer, attracted a $500 auction bid.

He says he’s baffled how the once bustling hub of auto innovation has degenerated into a stripped eyesore and dump site that attracted a lone $500 bid at the county’s tax foreclosure auction last week.

“Honestly, I don’t know how it happened,” said the 85-year-old, who lives close to the facility on Plymouth near Schaefer. “Somebody should tear it down. They’ve done robbed it.”

County officials said they will meet Monday to determine if the $500 auction sale will stand, after a former owner threatened late last week to take the county to court over the foreclosure. The former owner says he wasn’t legally notified he was at risk of losing it over $1.25 million in unpaid taxes and fees, said Deputy Treasurer Eric Sabree.

Sabree said they are waiting to see if the individual is successful in getting a court order to stop the sale.

“If nothing is filed with the court — we have to be served — we will issue the deed if the 2015 taxes and purchase price is paid,” Sabree said.

Nicholas Casab, 25, of Commerce Township had the winning $500 bid in the auction Tuesday. He must also pay the summer tax bill of $160,600. Court records show Casab is the son of Romel Casab, 53, a longtime land speculator who once had an ownership interest in another ruin, the Packard Plant.

Nicholas Casab declined comment when reached Sunday.

A Detroit News article in 2013 featured the site’s fate, detailing how the once 1.4 million-square-foot facility became a dumping ground in less than three years. As recently as 2009, more than 1,000 Chrysler employees worked at the site designing Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos. The complex, which opened in 1927, was home of Kelvinator, a refrigerator manufacturer.

It later became corporate headquarters of American Motors, once led by former Michigan Gov. George W. Romney. Chrysler bought out AMC in 1987.

It was sold in 2010 in Chrysler’s bankruptcy to Plymouth Road I, whose president in 2010 was James C. George, a Mount Clemens businessman, according to Wayne County records.

George later sold the complex to Terry Williams, a scrap hauler who told The News in 2013 that he wanted to turn the complex into a home for autistic children.

Williams pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for two counts of violating the federal Clean Air Act for improperly removing asbestos and dismantling air conditioning units at the Plymouth Road facility.

Sabree said he did not know the name of the former owner who came to the county last week maintaining he never received a foreclosure notice.

The potential new owner, Casab, and his father had a mall near Cleveland that they bought for $175,000 at an online auction seized by a court-appointed receiver in April of this year, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Romel Casab also has a bankruptcy case under appeal over whether a $3.46 million court judgment against him should be discharged. The case involves a scrap company that said it paid Casab for metal it never received.

The former AMC campus includes a distinctive bell tower that would fit in on an Ivy League campus.

The complex is overgrown with vegetation and is mostly mostly windowless. There are mountains of dirt and asphalt on the property along with twisted metal and empty metal drums.

Nearby resident Odell Sturdivant, 85, who has lived in the area since 1970, talks about the deterioration of the American Motors Corp. site.

“They are scrapping that 40 hours a week,” said Tim Justice, who owns Crane First, a business repairing overhead cranes down the street. “It has been kind of a relief for me because they have been leaving me alone.”

“That building was like a work of art. It’s disgusting.”

Sturdivant said he’s worried about potential environmental contamination on the property.

The General Motors retiree said his family was one of the first black families to move to the neighborhood in 1970 after he bought the home for $17,900.

Forty-five years later he thinks the tidy brick bungalow would sell for under $10,000.

“I try not to think about it,” Sturdivant said.

The bankruptcy sales of General Motors' and Chrysler’s defunct properties have been handled differently.

With General Motors, the U.S. Bankruptcy court created a group called the Revitalizing Automotive Communities Environmental Response Trust that did background checks on potential buyers, requiring them to have track records to pull off their proposals.

A similar group wasn’t formed for Chrysler’s facilities because there were fewer, said Ron Bloom, the former auto czar for President Barack Obama, in 2013.

Rex LaMore, director of Michigan State University Center for Community and Economic Development, has proposed forcing businesses to get insurance policies that would pay for demolition and environmental remediation in cases like the former AMC headquarters.