Packard Plant burns; developer misses deadline to buy ruins

Packard fire 3908It was back to usual at the abandoned, sprawling Packard Plant on Detroit’s east side.

As a Chicago developer appeared to miss the deadline to buy the 35 acres of ruins, an intentionally set fire inside the cavernous ruins sent plumes of black smoke over I-94 at Concord.

According to Wayne County officials, Bill Hults failed to make a $1 million payment to buy the 35-acre property, which has been predominately vacant for more than a half century. Hults has until midnight to come up with the money.

Hults raised hopes this week that he’d have the money to begin transforming the crumbling property into a hub for businesses, housing and entertainment when he paid to insure the massive site for inspection.

Packard Fire_3921But reviving Detroit’s symbol of industrial decline will take a big investment from a committed developer. County officials privately expressed concerns about Hults, who has never been involved in a project of this magnitude and was unable to show proof that he could finance it.

The Packard was the largest manufacturing plant in the world when it opened at the turn of the 20th century. But steep industrial declines beginning in the 1950s hit the Motor City hard, forcing the closure of many plants, including the Packard.

More than a half century later, scrappers are tearing apart the building in search of metal. Discarded boats, cars and mountains of trash are strewn throughout the plant.

The former owner, Dominic Cristini, stopped paying property taxes years ago and abandoned plans to demolish the 3.5 million-square-foot plant, which officials said could cost as much as $15 million.


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.