The city of Detroit won a default judgement this week against the Peruvian real estate developer Fernando Palazuelo, owner of the derelict Packard Plant on the city’s East Side. A judge has now ordered Palazuelo and his local company, Arte Express Detroit, to foot the bill for the immediate demolition of the site, estimated to cost at least $10 million.
The ruling was handed down after Palazuelo and his lawyer missed a March 24 court date. It’s a fitting end to his absent stewardship of the site. Palazuelo purchased the site in 2014 for a measly $405,000 from a Wayne County Tax auction and since then invested less than a million dollars a year into upkeep, security and rehabilitation.
Built in 1903 and almost immediately expanded, the Packard plant employed 40,000 people and covered 40 acres of land during its heyday in the 1940s and ’50s. Designed by Albert Kahn associates, the architect of the city’s most beautiful art deco skyscrapers, it was the first auto plant to use reinforced concrete in its construction. The Packard plant was a modern wonder for decades.
But when Packard closed up shop for good in the late ’50s after being absorbed by Studebaker, no one was there to take over the facility. The Big Three were already well on their way out of the cities by then. The Packard Plant has been allowed to rot and decay for 7 decades, an open sore for a city trying to heal from wholesale economic devastation. It served as a popular spot for illegal raves in the ’90s but has mostly been used as an illegal dump and place to mug “urban explorers” who come wandering around every so often to capture ruin porn.
There was some hope of revitalization around Palazuelo’s acquisition of the plant though his plan to self-finance a $500 million renovation was always a pie-in-the-sky dream. The city has had it with the delays and excuses, the Detroit Free Press reports, especially Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan:
Duggan spoke about the Packard Plant last month during his State of the City address and referred to Palazuelo, although not by name, as an impediment to the site getting cleaned up and redeveloped.
“We are suing because he hasn’t done a darn thing to deal with the blight in the eight years that he’s owned it,” Duggan said in the address. “After eight years of broken promises, I’m very confident that Chuck Raimi and our law department will finally remove the owner that has inflicted this blight on us … and allow us to move forward.”
Asked whether it is fair to stick Palazuelo with such a large demolition bill, Raimi said that it is.
“He decided to buy it and thought it was possibly going to make a windfall profit,” Raimi said. “But instead he did nothing and he left it as a dangerous nuisance. So it’s his conduct that put him in this situation he’s in.”
Palazuelo has 21 days to apply for a demolition permit, 42 days to start tearing structures down and 90 days to complete the demo. It seems an unimaginable time frame, considers the size of the site.
The Packard is secondary only to Michigan Central Station in iconic Detroit ruins, which is currently being rehabbed as an autonomous vehicle center by Ford. There are plenty of other empty auto factories in Detroit that draw ire from city officials. AMC’s old headquarters is also on the chopping block after being abandoned in 2009. It was recently announced that the Fisher body plant will be turned into housing after being empty since 1993.