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Car museum could figure into redevelopment of Detroit’s former Packard plant

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Photo by Mike Boening.

Along with art galleries, a nightclub, apartments, and a spa, the group behind the redevelopment of the former Packard plant in Detroit may also include a museum dedicated to Packard automobiles in their plans, though such a museum would likely not appear for many years.

As the Detroit Free Press noted in a recent article on the redevelopment project, Fernando Palazuelo, who bought the sprawling 40-acre complex at a foreclosure auction in December 2013 for $405,000, has outlined four phases to begin the project over the next several years. An Albert Kahn Associates-led $12 million restoration of the four-story administration building will constitute the first phase, while a recreational complex, art galleries and studio spaces, and a seven-story techno dance club will comprise phases two through four. A potential Packard auto museum could come about sometime after the fourth phase, itself tentatively scheduled for sometime after 2018.

A spokesperson for Palazuelo’s Arte Express said that groundbreaking for the project has tentatively been set for October, though that date appears contingent on whether Detroit’s city council approves a plan to freeze city taxes at current levels for the next 12 years. Palazuelo has estimated the redevelopment of the plant could cost as much as $500 million, some of which he intends to finance through tax breaks, credits, and incentives.

Kari Smith, director of development for Arte Express, told the Free Press that turning a profit from the plant – which is expected to take many years – is not their main goal. “Our main goal is the architectural renovation of these buildings and the benefits that this transition is going to have for the community,” she said.

Two Packard museums already exist in neighboring Ohio: the National Packard Museum in Warren, where Packard built cars before moving to Detroit; and the America’s Packard Museum in Dayton.

An Arte Express spokesperson did not return calls for more details on the proposed Detroit Packard museum.

The East Grand Avenue factory, which dates back to 1903 and was one of this country’s earliest examples of reinforced concrete construction, was designed by Albert Kahn and was once admired as one of the most advanced factories in the world. Packard discontinued production at the plant in 1956, and though much of the plant deteriorated over the following decades, a variety of paying tenants occupied parts of the factory until 2010. Following Palazuelo’s purchase of the plant – minus a few parcels the city of Detroit still owned – clean-up at the site began in September 2014.