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muckraker report

Detroit plans takeover of Packard Plant; defiant owner responds, “Kiss my ass”

First of a multiple-part series on the Packard Plant. 

Dominic Cristini was never one to give up.

When the city of Detroit tried to seize the Packard Plant from him in 1998 for unpaid taxes, the brash entrepreneur holed himself up in the concrete labyrinth for months and later won a court battle to maintain ownership.

But now, after 15 years of wrangling with the city, the once-defiant Cristini sounds more like a man preparing for his exit.

“Do me a favor and knock the Packard down. I’m tired of it,” Cristini told me. “I want to raise my 13-year-old. I don’t want to get killed over that building.”

Turns out, the city is preparing to seize the Packard Plant because of unpaid taxes that Cristini refuses to pay, the Motor City Muckraker has learned. Cristini maintains he owes no taxes because the city won’t provide basic services to protect his property from arsonists, vandals and thieves.

“The city can kiss my ass,” Cristini said in a frank, wide-ranging interview. “It’s taxation without representation.”

Just eight months ago, Cristini pledged to spend millions of dollars to raze some of the buildings. Now he’s resigned to letting the buildings crumble.

Detroit’s decision to foreclose on the 40-acre property is risky. The uninsured city would shoulder a huge liability and is in no financial shape to demolish the concrete industrial buildings that are loaded with asbestos and other health hazards. The city already is overwhelmed with thousands of derelict properties.

The Packard Plant, which opened in 1903, is a Detroit icon – an Albert Kahn-designed factory that churned out luxury automobiles and decent wages for thousands of workers. The plant closed in 1956 and was replaced with smaller shops.

The Packard has become an urban playscape for photographers, graffiti artists and adventurers from the around the world. But traversing the plant has become increasingly risky because walls and ceilings are caving in, and thieves are targeting tourists.

Neighbors don’t care who demolishes the buildings.

“Just tear down the damn thing already,” neighbor Harry Foster said. “I’m tired of looking it at. It brings nothing but trouble.”

Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Got tips or suggestions? Contact Steve at sneavling@gmail.com

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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.