DETROIT – Demolition started Friday on a section of the massive and crumbling Detroit Packard auto factory complex — a symbol of the city’s blight and past manufacturing glory.
A high reach demolition excavator was used to rip out reinforced concrete exterior wall and floor supports.
Resembling a large toothy metal claw, the heavy equipment also sent chunks of wood, brick and concrete crashing to the closed-off street below.
Friday’s work was meant “to make the area safer for the community, but also safer for our workers that are going to be here on site,” said Kari Smith, Packard project manager.
Peruvian developer Fernando Palazuelo bought the 40-acre site last year for $405,000 at a Wayne County tax foreclosure auction. He wants to bring in apartments, retail, high-tech entrepreneurs, light industrial operations and artist studios.
Palazuelo told The Associated Press in June that the total redevelopment cost should be near $350 million. It would be paid with rent he receives from his projects in Lima, he said.
Built in the early 1900s, the Packard plant was designed by Albert Kahn. The company became a dominant luxury carmaker in the United States in the late 1920s and by the 1940s had 36,000 employees.
The last auto was made there in the mid- to late-1950s and the various buildings eventually were used as warehouses, other manufacturing and small industrial projects.
Former owners failed to pay thousands of dollars in back taxes. City officials have said razing the structures and cleaning out polluted soil could cost as much as $20 million.
“We have clear ownership,” Smith said. “Taxes are paid and now we’re moving forward with redevelopment. The whole thing takes time when you’re dealing a project of this size.
“What we’ll expect to see is a complete cleanup and remediation of all the environmental toxins, all the debris and the reinforced concrete pieces that are causing safety issues in the neighbourhood.”
A sweep of the building’s interior was done before work started Friday to make sure no one was inside.
“Security is an issue,” Smith said. “It’s a very large place, but we’re taking all the precautions.”
British graffiti artist Banksy is credited with painting a mural at the site with the message, “I remember when all this was trees.”
The art was moved to a gallery, but Palazuelo would like to get it back.