The Peru-based developer who bought the abandoned Packard Plant in Detroit wants a local art gallery to return a now-famous Banksy mural that was excavated from the ruins amid controversy in May 2010.
Fernando Palazuelo, who plans to convert the east-side ruins into commercial and residential space, planned to meet Wednesday with representatives of 555 Gallery and Studios in hopes of convincing them to donate the 7-foot-by-8-foot piece back to the Packard, where the world-renowned street artist painted it.
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“We are concerned about the piece leaving Detroit, especially when it was supposed to be kept here,” project manager Kari Smith said Wednesday. “It’s a very important piece to the city, and we’d like to maintain it and display it at the Packard.”
When gallery volunteers removed the valuable 1,500-pound cinder-block wall from the crumbling plant four years ago, they said the idea was to preserve the mural so that people in metro Detroit could view it. Then in March, we broke news that the nonprofit gallery was looking for someone to buy the mural, which experts say could fetch a few hundred thousand dollars.
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The nonprofit, which operates solely with volunteers inside a largely unused former police precinct on West Vernor, wants to use money from a sale to support its more than 30 resident artists, musicians, writers, nonprofit arts administrators and creative entrepreneurs.
After a legal battle with the then-owner of the Packard Plant, the gallery reached a $2,500 agreement to legally take ownership of the excavated mural.
The value of street art has been soaring in recent years. Earlier this year, a Banksy mural taken from the side of a pub in England was sold for $575,000. In December, a similar stencil sold for $209,000.
Palazuelo, who bought the sprawling ruins in December for $405,000, made good on his delinquent tax bill earlier this month after clearing up a dispute over the amount due.
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Now Palazuelo is pulling city permits to begin removing dangerous debris from the Packard’s former administration building, which was heavily damaged by scrappers who brazenly removed an entire floor last year.
Once the work is complete, Palazuelo plans to restore the iconic brick bridge over East Grand Boulevard. The bridge, which was used to transport the shells of automobiles to the engine area, has been heavily vandalized.
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.