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Slowly but surely, Packard Plant being renovated

The Packard Plant Project

If you have driven past the derelict Packard Plant in Detroit recently -- that eyesore beloved of Detroit "ruin porn" photographers -- you probably noticed something is different.

Most of the graffiti is gone.

And more improvements for the massive east Detroit property are on the way. Owners say the Packard Plant Project will be the largest historic renovation in North American history - and the third largest globally.

Kari Smith is Director of Development for Arte Express, Detroit, which bought the former Packard Car Company factory in late 2013.  She says a lot of people have been asking why the promised renovation is taking so long.

"For a project of this size, the permit and other approval process takes time," says Smith, a Detroiter whose grandfather worked in the famed Packard administrative building designed by Albert Kahn.

"We waited for our OPRA (Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act) permit for a year. And there are so many things you can't do without the proper approvals," she says. "Without them, you can do no construction at all – and very limited abatement."

But visually, says Smith, the site already looks quite a bit different. Besides graffiti removal, debris has been removed from the tops of buildings on the sprawling 2.7 million square foot site, as well as inside the buildings. 

The next step is getting brownfield redevelopment approval.

A public hearing in Detroit is scheduled for November 29; Smith thinks that approval will be in place by January.  The brownfield permit allows the crews to remove debris outside the buildings - there's quite a lot - as well as investigate if there are any underground storage tanks remaining, and cap them.

That work will start in the spring.

Credit The Packard Plant Project
The Packard Plant Project
The Packard Plant Project says the first building to be renovated - the former administrative offices - is 70% occupied based on commitments from tenants.

Smith says future tenants are already lining up to get in, even though the first building won't be ready until mid to late 2018.  She says the revitalization of Detroit has created a buzz about this project on the east side of the city. 

"It's away from downtown enough that is misses a lot of the intense traffic, and it's a historic icon for the neighborhoods, and a development of this size is something that Detroit has never seen," says Smith.

"The size of the Packard will have amazing results for the neighborhood that surrounds it as far as bringing back amenities and job creation to an area of Detroit that's been abandoned and neglected for years," she says.

Smith says the project has already hired east Detroit-based landscapers and security, and it plans to train unemployed neighborhood residents in construction trades.

"We think that will bridge the gap between labor shortage in Detroit and high unemployment," says Smith.

The grand vision for the Packard Plant Project is a mixed use development that they say will create numerous jobs. 

Five years from now, owners plan to have two to four of the buildings renovated and occupied, and within 15 years, they say all of the buildings on the site will be renovated and occupied, with recreational and cultural attractions including a planned Packard Museum.

Plans call for residential homes on the north side, and distribution, logistics or light manufacturing on the south side of the property.


Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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