Part 2: Packard Plant crumbles without consequences to owner; city too broke to solve problem

To many, the sprawling Packard Plant is nothing more than a dangerous eyesore and an unsettling reminder of Detroit’s tragic decline.

To others, it’s an urban playscape. A mammoth canvas. The Great Ruins of Detroit.

But to the embattled city, the 40-acre plant is a stark reminder of how broke and powerless the cash-starved government has become. The plant’s owner, Dominic Cristini, a convicted felon, has refused to demolish the buildings and won’t pay long-overdue taxes on the property.

The city’s only recourse is to seize the property, but that would never happen, city officials told the Motor City Muckraker on Monday. The city, for one, has nowhere near the roughly $15 million it would cost to demolish the complex. And already steeped in costly lawsuits, the city can’t afford the liability of owning a hazardous, collapsing plant that attracts trespassers, thieves and thugs.

That leaves the city with one option – wait until Cristini demolishes the building, if he ever does.

Cristini reneged on a pledge to begin demolishing the plant this spring and has dodged media questions since.

At 3.5-million-square feet, the Packard was the largest manufacturing plant in the world when it opened at the turn of the 20th century. But huge industrial declines in the 1950s hit the Motor City hard, forcing the closure of many plants, including the Packard.

More than a half century later, floors and ceilings are collapsing. Entire buildings have crumbled to the ground. Stolen boats, cars and trucks are discarded throughout the plant.

For now, it’s a lawless wasteland or a powerful symbol of Detroit’s industrial slide, depending on whom you ask.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.