Things are moving forward steadily at one of Detroit’s most famous symbols of former glory. The renovation plan for the 40-acre crumbling factory, which manufactured its last car in the 1950’s, is expected to continue over the next 10-15 years and cost around $500 million.
The Packard Motor Company cleared out in 1957 for another factory in the city, leaving a part of the building and a number of collectible vehicles abandoned and exposed to the elements. Other sections were leased to independent companies and remained active as late as 2010, as scrappers, vandals, and pickers combed the property, taking everything of value and leaving a battered, empty shell in their wake.
Shortly before the last tenants left, a dump truck was pushed off the roof, making front page news at the Wall Street Journal, and a few years later, a tiger escaped a photo shoot and had to be chased through the crumbling building and recaptured (unharmed) with a leafblower. For a few years, the massive complex burned almost every night. Even if you’ve never gotten to see it up close, these examples should make it abundantly clear that any renovation at this point is going to be quite the undertaking.
After the heavily damaged building was foreclosed and auctioned off in October of 2013, the first couple of highest bidders never made their payments to the county, so the property was offered to Fernando Palazuelo of Arte Express for $405,000. He’s known for his successful redevelopment of historic architecture in Lima, Peru.
The first phase of renovation will concentrate on the administration building, pictured below, which already has a number of tenants lined up. Though the groundbreaking ceremony was only a few weeks ago, parts of the factory had already been cleared out and small portions of the building were demolished in the preceding months.
The buzzing sounds of power tools filtered through the happy, lively conversations as former employees, neighbors, Packard fans, and members of the media congregated on a warm, sunny day to pray for and celebrate the next step toward Detroit’s future.
The redeveloped Packard Plant is envisioned to include a gallery, a dance club, and a barbecue restaurant, as well as other commercial and residential spaces. “We will not fail,” Palazuelo promised during the ceremony, reasserting his commitment to the project.
The lower East side of Detroit is about to become a very different place.