Well, this is hilarious: One of the stranger stories of the year here in Detroit appears to be rising to an even stranger climax. It’s the Packard plant, the second-most famous ruin in Detroit and certainly the most problematic. Vacant for more than half a century — it was abandoned the year before I was born, friends — it has become more of a mess and more dangerous every day since. When we moved here, it was still possible for brave souls to wander through it and take pictures, and dozens did.
Recently, it’s become even more of a free-for-all. A couple weeks ago, a website reported on a scrapping crew, using heavy equipment of all things, digging deeper into the plant than ever before, ripping metal from the reinforced concrete walls, piece by piece.
Inside the concrete labyrinth, we spied scrappers – long suspected to be the source of many Packard fires – stacking combustible objects like wooden pallets and sofas along beams supporting the metal-studded ceilings, waiting to be torched.
The plant is collapsing all around, and even drive-by photographers are being carjacked. It’s a nasty place. So. The 100-acre property came up for tax sale last week. Just a couple weeks ago, you could have picked it up for unpaid taxes, about $1 million. But anyone with eyes in their head and a room-temperature IQ could see it would take millions upon millions more just to tear down the buildings and clean up the site, much less redevelop it, in the midst of a miserable neighborhood on the blighted east side of Detroit.
So the auction started last Friday, and in the final hour, got weird:
An online auction for Detroit’s iconic Packard plant ended Friday with a ferocious bidding war and mystery winner from Texas who Wayne County officials say offered more than $6 million for the crumbling lot.
The county treasurer’s office identified the winner as Jill Van Horn of Ennis, Texas, a family practice doctor whose bid of $6,038,000 closed the property’s tax foreclosure auction at about 5:20 p.m. After opening at a mere $21,000 on Oct. 8, the high bid jumped from $601,000 to $5.5 million in the final hour, eventually creeping up to just above $6 million.
It’s as though someone paid $6 million for a case of cancer. Malignant cancer.
The first payment was due today, but given the sum involved, the treasurer said the doctor could have some extra time. First the doctor’s team announced they planned to take this ruin and turn it into a a factory to make manufactured homes. And then, as things tend to do around here, things got even weirder:
Wayne County officials expect to see money Wednesday from a Texas doctor who won a tax-foreclosure auction for the Packard Plant, but acknowledge they’re concerned about a statement released by her staff that likened Detroit’s potential to hydroelectric power.
“It is the process that allows us to transform the lake from a canoeing and fishing kind of place into an energy producing kind of place,” reads a three-page statement from Dr. Jill Van Horn’s staff that was released to the media on Tuesday. “Detroit’s assets, like energy, also have dormant value.”
“Dr. Van Horn’s prophecy was to resurrect Detroit by providing eduction, jobs and vocational training to the city’s residence, simultaneously unplugging the financial arteries of the city,” the statement read.
Prophecies. Anyone who could possibly be bored here simply isn’t paying attention.
You can read the whole statement at the last link. It’s worth it. And a great bonus: A drone-cam tour of the plant, with a Marvin Gaye soundtrack. Even more worth it.
At first I didn’t like it when our neighborhood in Fort Wayne got Halloween tourists on trick-or-treat night, but I got past it. Now I’m pro-candy, pro-Halloween, until it runs out and the porch light goes out. Some people need to mellow out.
Eric Zorn on the weirdness of modern car keys. Want an extra? That’ll cost you $650.
And that’s it for a Wednesday. If I can get over the hump, anything’s possible.