Construction for the Packard Plant began in 1903 and was completed in 1911. Auto manufacturing stopped in 1958, other businesses operated into the 1990s.
Now, enter Fernando Palazuelo. He paid Wayne County $405,000 in December for the 3,500,000-square-foot property.
Along with talented still photographer, Sal Rodriguez, I met up with Palazuelo at the Packard to tour the former automotive manufacturing hub. I wanted to hear from the owner, in his own words, what his vision is for this property was and how it fits in with the future of the city of Detroit.
"This is more or less like a quite depressing image, but on the other hand, it has a certain romantic touch. I mean this decadent touch is something that is also beautiful," Palazuelo said.
He's a developer from Peru and was accompanied on the tour by his project manager, Kari Smith.
"This has become an iconic figure, not only to Detroiters, not only to the state and the country, but to the world. People come here from all over the country. They want to see this because they're so interested in what has happened in Detroit. So, if we can turn that around and focus on the revitalization, this could be the comeback city's main headquarters," Smith said.
"Detroit was a town with a lot of history, a European touch, a French touch. The first time I read about Detroit, it was completely, still today, undervalued," Palazuelo said. "I see something very close to what you see when you walk on the old ruins of the Greek towns, the Roman towns or the South American towns. You see a lot of history. Of course you see destruction, but on the other hand, also if you are able to read the buildings, you get a lot of information. I mean this is an open book."
"The Packard Plant project will be a long project because of the size. Seven to 10 years. I would like to have seven or eight types of different tenants -- from residential to a school, to commercial to recreational, art," Palazuelo said. "I think art is very important to bring young artists from all over the country, all over the world here. The history of the building with the old Packard is something we would also like to bring ...a collection of old cars. Bring a context to the building again."
Why are you doing this?
"Well, a lot of people would say that we are crazy and a lot of people would say historic preservation in general is crazy, especially Americans would say that. It costs a lot more money to rehabilitate historic buildings, but when you look at the structure itself, and you look at what could happen with this structure, it's like no other," Smith said. "The materials are no longer available. People are not building like this any longer. So, when you take the history and what it could be and you put that together with a structure that's already intact here, it could be amazing once again."