Another piece of ex-Packard Plant razed but there's plenty of ruin left

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city of Detroit began demolishing a second hulking piece of what officials described as "the city's largest and most notorious remaining abandoned auto factory."

That would be the former Packard Plant, a once-innovative 20th-century auto plant that stopped producing vehicles more than six decades ago. Since then, the 40-acre facility slowly became an international symbol of Detroit's industrial decline because the site was thoroughly stripped and looted. Along the way, the industrial ruin attracted plenty of artists, including filmmakers, visual artists and musicians.

City officials hope to have finally found a solution for the ravaged site: Demolish most of it while saving a portion of it for development.

"Every day the Packard Plant sits here in this state is a day this neighborhood cannot move forward," said Mayor Mike Duggan in a written statement. "We are just going to keep going until this eyesore is gone once and for all." Duggan pointed out Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last year approved $12 million for the continued demolition of the facility.

Demolition crews began this week to remove a major section of the plant at 1539 E. Grand Blvd. In September, the city began to raze another portion of the former plant at 6199 Concord. The demolition cost of the East Grand Boulevard portion is $1.2 million, according to the mayor's office. The Concord portion cost $1.7 million for the demolition, according to previous press reports.

The city has now gained control of major portions of the facility. Most of the facility was owned by an entity controlled by Spanish-born developer Fernando Palazuelo. The developer paid $405,000 for the site at Wayne County's tax foreclosure auction in 2013. He tried to find investors to back a $350 million mixed-used development with industrial, offices, retail and cultural elements. He didn't succeed.

In 2021, the city sued Palazuelo and Arte Express to have the abandoned plant declared a public nuisance and torn down. On Tuesday, the mayor's office said the city has now gained ownership of 33 additional parcels of the plant previously owned by Palazuelo’s Arte Express. The vacant parcels slipped into tax foreclosure but were not bought at the foreclosure auction.

In April 2022, a judge ordered Palazuelo to demolish all the structures on the property. But the developer failed to meet deadlines regarding the demolition, so the city has taken on the demolition project. The former property owner may still be responsible for paying the cost of the project.

“We made a promise to Detroiters and local business owners in this neighborhood to transform this property from blight to beauty,” said City Demolition Director LaJuan Counts. The city has begun the process of surveying the remainder of the plant and soliciting preliminary bids to demolish additional sections of the plant, Counts said.

The city also said it will not demolish the front wing of 1539 E. Grand Blvd., according to a release from the mayor's office. That portion will be marketed for redevelopment.

"The Packard has a meaningful history," Duggan said. "We are hopeful to find a developer that will preserved and reuse," part of the plant.