Bill Hults, the Chicago-area investor who was forced to stop illegally scavenging a building he purchased in Detroit earlier this month, insists he’s not just another out-of-state investor preying on Detroit’s cheap real estate for a quick buck.
You may remember Hults as the man who nearly bought the abandoned Packard Plant before pulling out twice at the last minute last year.
Now Hults, who recently moved to Royal Oak, is beginning to gut the former Cadillac Stamping Plant near Gratiot and Conner, a 954,000-square-foot factory he bought last year. He has big plans for the sprawling 90-year-old plant – lease the space to companies to produce material for precast concrete homes and condos, many of which will be built near the plant for employees, Hults said.
“Our plan is to start buying up property that is burned and bombed out near the plant and remediate those sites and bulldoze them if we have to,” Hults told us this week. “We want to build two- to three-unit buildings and repopulate the area where people work. We would have a walkable community.”
That was Hults’ plan for the long-abandoned Packard Plant before he said a “greedy investor” spoiled the project.
But Hults has come under the eye of the Department of Environmental Quality following complaints that he was forcing his employees to work inside the asbestos-laden Cadillac Stamping Plant, which most recently was occupied by the Ivan Doverspike Co.
“We received an anonymous complaint late last year that Mr Hults was requiring temporary workers to work in and around asbestos,” Joseph Goeddeke, an asbestos inspector for the DEQ, said. “A month or so later, we received another complaint.
“There is a lot of asbestos in that building.”
During the inspections, Goeddeke said he didn’t see employees disturbing the asbestos, a hazardous substance that can cause cancer and other problems in the lungs.
“We plan on doing everything to the letter of the law about removing hazardous material, including asbestos,” Hults said. “We will have people fully suited up, and we will dispose of it in a legal way. Right now we are only pulling wire.”
Hults has raised concerns among city and county officials. He purchased 17 houses and buildings near the Packard Plant last year but has not paid property taxes on any of them and was forced to stop scrapping one of the buildings after we exposed his crew gutting the 6431 E. Palmer building without permits or safety precautions.
Hults insists the city gave him permission to remove scrap metal from the building without permits, a claim the city adamantly denies.
He also says he is appealing the taxes “due to the vacant nature of the properties.”
The fire department was called twice to the building, and his crew was spotted with torches trying to remove a transformer from the roof.
His houses are mostly open to trespass and strewn with litter.
“Should I clean up the mess? I guess,” he said. “Just because I buy it doesn’t mean I have to clean it up within 3o minutes.”
During our two interviews, Hults was friendly at times and hostile at others.
He referred to a Detroit building inspector as a “Gestapo agent” who was “being a real jerk” for closing down the scrapping operation at his East Palmer property.
But when the topic shifted to the former Cadillac Stamping, he became excited.
“I have been doing this successfully for 35 years,” Hults said. “This is one of the most advanced building systems.”
We will continue to monitor Hults’ properties.
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.