"Villages of Packard": Interview with Albert Kahn Associates

We talk about the Packard plants future and some of its challenges

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DETROIT - Evanston, Illinois developer Bill Hults is leading a group of investors who want to redevelop the historic Packard Automotive Plant. They've retained the architectural firm that build the plant: Albert Kahn Associates. While ownership transfer has not been finalized, we could be hearing about finalization in the coming days or weeks. I spoke with Rick Dye, Director of Project Management at Albert Kahn Associates, about the future of the plant and what ideas are being discussed.

How far in planning this Packard Plant redevelopment has come?

Rick Dye: Up to now, pre-development activities have been taking place.  For more than 12 months, the developer has been putting together a support team and planning the redevelopment program.  Activities include establishing business plans, land purchases, financing, interested tenants, and preparing a concrete manufacturing operation for new and/or rebuild of concrete structures. Site planning and design efforts will start when transfer of property ownership is finalized.

What does it mean for your firm to be attached to this redevelopment project?

Rick Dye: We are absolutely delighted. Over 100 years ago, the founder of our company was the architect for the original Packard Plant. It's a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the dynamic history we share with the City of Detroit, the city that always has been, and remains home to our firm. The unique knowledge and familiarity with historic Kahn structures our firm brings to this legacy Albert Kahn building project is significant. We look forward to being involved in repurposing this important landmark and helping rebuild our great city.

What are the biggest challenges ahead for this project?

Rick Dye: Undoubtedly, the program will have big challenges merely due to the size, age and condition of the buildings.  Reutilizing as many of the salvageable buildings for a new purpose is a challenge our team is excited to take on.

What does it mean for the city of Detroit just to have this goal of redevelopment?

Rick Dye: Positive benefits because the ultimate goal of redevelopment is to revitalize the area. New jobs, homes and businesses will be created.

What are some features of this redevelopment plan? Any specifics? I guess I'm not sure what commercial, entertainment, and residential facilities are planned.

Rick Dye: The plan includes commercial spaces for startup-businesses, restaurants, shops, and markets. There will be market rate housing, residential loft apartments, and a boutique hotel. Areas will be opened up for community activities, creating parks and walkable neighborhoods. Storage and large areas will be made available for product display.

Tell me any history you know about the initial development of the Packard Plant.

Rick Dye: There are volumes of books and articles written on the initial development of the Packard Plant. One of the most notable historical events relates to the design and construction of "Building 10". The introduction of the "Kahn Bar", which brought the world composite concrete, deformed steel bar reinforcing, trussed steel bar reinforcing, and steel beams with floor slabs to support heavy machinery loads. Probably the most important thing the Packard Plant brought was the working middle class, and the "American Dream"!

What would you say to people who doubt a plan like this could come to fruition?

Rick Dye: Similar negative things were said about many other notable renovation projects that have been successful here. If there is ever a good time for a redevelopment plan for the Packard Plant to succeed, now is the time.

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