Redevelopment plans unveiled for iconic former American Motors HQ in Detroit

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Detroit may be saying goodbye to the iconic former American Motors Headquarters on the city’s northwest side, which is expected to be demolished in a new $66 million proposed redevelopment, Mayor Mike Duggan announced Thursday.

The site, which has sat abandoned since 2010, could become home to a newly constructed employment center that will bring 150 construction jobs and more than 300 permanent jobs to the city, officials said.

An agreement between NorthPoint Development and the city would sell the city-owned land, including the former AMC site and 26 residential parcels, to NorthPoint Development for nearly $5.9 million. NorthPoint said it will undertake the environmental remediation and demolition of the existing AMC complex and the cost will be credited in a tax break against the purchase price, according to the city.

In its place, NorthPoint wants to build two new buildings totaling 728,000-square-feet of industrial space that would be suitable for a new automotive parts supplier.

Duggan detailed the plans for 56 acres of the site on Plymouth Road saying, it's a step to “Erase the ruin porn from the city’s landscape.” 

"I am convinced within a couple of years, you're going to see a manufacturing facility employing 300 or 400 people to be a source of employment in this neighborhood instead of a source of embarrassment," Duggan said. "Before we're done, we're going to have this same announcement at the Packard Plant and get rid of the rest of the blight in this city."

The sale of city parcels and other tax incentives have not been approved by City Council and the project will also require approval from the Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and Detroit Land Bank Authority.

If approved in early 2022, the demolition could begin in late 2022 and redevelopment in mid-2023. The facility could open in late 2023 or early 2024, officials said..

The former American Motors Corp. site in Detroit. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and other officials will announce Thursday a redevelopment agreement for the site of the iconic former American Motor headquarters that has sat abandoned since 2010.

It would be the second project NorthPoint Development has started in the city, said Tim Conder, vice president of acquisitions for the Missouri-based company. 

"I grew up on the other side of the freeway over in Rosedale Park and Detroit may be a punching bag but my goal is to make Detroit one of the top industrial markets in the country," Conder said. "Detroit is on everyone's radar screen right now... and a lot of people don't like to claim that Detroit has the proper space needed."

Conder said there will be robust demand for industrial space and the AMC site is ideal.

"We have good access to the roads and freeway, we can get into the city and cover other areas within Detroit Metro," he said.

While AMC was the last company to occupy the space, it was originally built as a Kelvinator appliance factory in 1926. The Kelvinator Corporation, established 10 years prior by engineer Nathaniel Wales in Detroit, specialized in household refrigeration appliances. When it introduced the first fully self-contained refrigerator in 1925, the company grew quickly and began construction on the site with Amedeo Leoni, who designed the plant.

It included an office complex at the front of the building, with a three-story factory area complete with a power plant at the back, according to Architecture Afterlife's biography of the site. 

After a decade, the company merged with automaker Nash Motors, becoming Nash-Kelvinator. In 1954, Nash-Kelvinator merged again, this time with Hudson Motors, forming the American Motors Corporation. At the time, it was the largest merger in U.S. history.

In 1975, AMC moved their headquarters from Detroit to Southfield and then-Mayor Coleman Young was so angry, Duggan said, "he pledged never to buy an AMC vehicle again, and I have no doubt that he said that."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan uses a masterplan to make a point as he speaks during a press conference at  the former headquarters of the American Motor Corporation, 14250 Plymouth Road, Detroit, on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021.

Chrysler bought the company in 1987 and used the site for years until moving to Auburn Hills in 1995. 

"Basically, for the last 25 years, this has been nothing but an eyesore and a drain on the neighborhood," Duggan said.

Duggan said it would cost $10 million to demolish it and clean up the site and "coming out of bankruptcy, we couldn't justify it," he said. 

The iconic building has been “so stripped down by past owners that nothing is salvageable,” Duggan said, adding they will be having conversations with the community to see what mementos can be placed in AMC’s memory.

When General Motors, Stellanis, and Ford pick a new supplier, they give the city a chance to pitch them first, Duggan said, adding that's the hope for the future of the AMC site.

State Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, says the proposal is long overdue as she’s been living in the area since 1969.

“It didn't seem like this day was going to come soon enough," Whitsett said. "To see it massively decline, it's become such an eyesore for our community, and I can't say enough about this. I’m so happy the mayor kept his word."

Police Commissioner William Davis has lived in the neighborhood since 1983. He told The Detroit News following the announcement there were previous concerns over how the site would be cleaned up.

"I hope they know what they're getting into because there are loads of fuel tanks still sitting underneath the site," he said.

Rev. Cynthia Lowe, head of community outreach in the city, moved to the neighborhood in 1979 with her sister and her two kids. She said at the time, it was a beautiful community with a Kmart, Dominos Pizza and AMC was a beautiful, well-maintained building.

"This was a wonderful community. We used to have block club meetings trying to decide who had the prettiest home and you couldn't decide," said Lowe, president of Paved Way Block Club in District 7. "I watched this building... it's almost like a nightmare. I've come here and tried to stop people, even corporations, from dumping here... I remember the person who bought this building and cannibalized it. He took all the bricks off, windows out, and that's when the dumping began."

The former American Motor headquarters in Detroit that has sat abandoned since 2010, on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021. An agreement between NorthPoint Development and the city would sell the city-owned land, including the buildings and 26 residential parcels, to NorthPoint Development for nearly $5.9 million. The company proposes to raze the existing facility and build a new industrial complex suitable for an automotive supplier.

Lowe, 70, has high hopes for the community once the project begins: "I wish more people will come back like 1979. Buy houses, live in them, raise their family in them because this is a nice place."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_