Detroit's Historic Packard Plant To Cross Auction Block


  • Packard Plant Picture

    Packard Plant Picture

    Detroit's long-abandoned Packard Plant will cross the auction block in September. | June 10, 2013

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Just the Facts:
  • The crumbling Packard plant on Detroit's east side will go up for auction this September.
  • The opening bid is expected to be around $975,000.
  • The Packard complex consists of 43 parcels on 40 acres of property and buildings that total 3.5 million square feet of space.

DETROIT — The long-abandoned Packard plant on Detroit's east side will be put up for auction by Wayne County this September, the result of $975,000 in back taxes owed on the 40-acre site.

The complex, consisting of 43 individual parcels with buildings that total 3.5 million square feet, was put into foreclosure in March by the county, which hopes to sell it as a single package. The opening bid is expected to be set at the amount of the delinquent taxes.

If no buyer emerges at that first auction, the property will likely be put on the block again in October with bids starting at just the cost of holding the auction, around $500 per parcel, or a total of $21,500.

The current owner is listed as Bioresource Inc. of Warren, Michigan. According to reports from 2012, Bioresource had planned to demolish the structures but never followed through. The cost of demolition has been estimated to be at least $20 million.

In recent years, the crumbling remnants of the home of the Packard Motor Car Company have become a symbol of urban blight. Tourists and "urban archeologists" often visit the site to take pictures and explore the grounds. The complex has also been invaded by scavengers, who long ago stripped it of anything of value, as well as homeless people and vandals.

But it wasn't always that way. Construction of the complex on East Grand Boulevard began in 1903, when Packard moved to Detroit from Warren, Ohio. The plant was designed by noted industrial architect Albert Kahn, who was responsible for a number of other buildings in the Detroit area, including Ford's Highland Park factory.

Packard's Building No. 10 was the first to employ Kahn's innovative reinforced concrete construction, which offered greater strength, increased fire resistance, and more interior space than other materials. At the time it was built, the complex was considered one of the most advanced factories in the world.

Packard shut down its Detroit operation in June 1956, when it moved to South Bend, Indiana. The Detroit property changed hands several times before being sold to Bioresource in 1987. During the 1990s it became part of the city's electronic music scene, hosting a number of infamous raves. For a time the complex had a few tenants, including artists and sculptors, but with so much of the space unoccupied, it quickly fell into disrepair.

In 1999 the state of Michigan hired a contractor to demolish the property, but complications quickly emerged, including issues with asbestos, 500,000 illegally dumped tires, and PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) contamination. Because of the extra cost, demolition was called off, and the buildings were left to deteriorate.

The first Packard automobile was built in 1899 by brothers James and William Packard, who had previously run an electrical-component business in Warren, Ohio. They went on to produce some of the industry's most luxurious and iconic vehicles, examples of which resided in the garages of financiers, movie stars, and heads of state. Powered by V12 and Super Eight engines, they featured bodies by the greatest coachbuilders of the day, including Dietrich and LeBaron.

But during the Great Depression, Packard began downsizing its vehicles, and after World War II the company exited the luxury-car market altogether. Unable to challenge its larger mass-market competitors, Packard bought the struggling Studebaker Motor Company and thus became part of the merger that formed American Motors. The last Packard rolled off an assembly line in South Bend in 1958.

Edmunds says: The Packard site has historical significance for car enthusiasts. Many visitors to the Motor City consider it a must-see destination.

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