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Detroit-area land bank looking to find new owner for former AMC headquarters

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AMC’s Plymouth Road headquarters in July 2009 (left) and October 2016 (right). Images courtesy Google Street View.

Despite earlier discussions entertaining the possibility of demolishing the Detroit building that once housed the headquarters for AMC and the engineering offices for Chrysler and Jeep, the Wayne County Land Bank Corporation intends to keep the 90-year-old building standing as it tries to find a new owner to develop the property.

Normally tasked with finding new owners to rehabilitate abandoned or foreclosed residential properties in the Detroit area — and thus return the properties to the tax rolls — the land bank took ownership of the Plymouth Road building in November of last year. Since then, according to land bank spokesperson James Martinez, land bank officials, in conjunction with the Wayne County Economic Development Corporation and Detroit Economic Growth Corporation — have evaluated how best to develop the site.

“We’d need to enter into a purchase and development agreement with any new owner,” Martinez said. “The building obviously needs significant work to rehabilitate, but there are parts of the building that have historical significance that bring value to the property.”

Potential uses for the property range from single-occupant industrial to multiuse in the vein of the former Packard plant across town. “We’re always open to ideas,” Martinez said.

In 2015, the county made headlines when it foreclosed on previous owner Terry Williams and put the 54-acre, 1.4-million-square-foot complex up for auction that fall. Only one bidder seemed willing to take on the $500 starting bid and the $160,600 back taxes, but according to the Detroit News, the county voided the sale after that bidder failed to pay either amount.

Since then, according to the Detroit Free Press, county officials have considered razing the property to make it more marketable to developers. While the basic structure of the building — designed by Amedeo Leoni and built in 1927 for appliance maker Kelvinator — remains intact, it has steadily deteriorated since Williams bought it in 2010. More recent photos and descriptions of the site note the broken-out windows, extensive graffiti, looted metal fixtures, landscaping gone feral, and abandoned vehicles dumped inside the complex’s open gates. Scrappers even managed to abscond with the green sheetmetal roofing from both wings of the main building in the complex.

“There are currently no plans to demo,” Martinez said, qualifying his statement by noting that the land bank is still gauging interest in the building and that its plans aren’t set in stone.

Williams bought the property for $2.3 million from Old Carco, a company tasked with selling surplus Chrysler properties following the company’s 2009 bankruptcy, and claimed to have drawn up plans to convert the complex into a home for autistic children. Chrysler, in turn, inherited the building with its purchase of AMC in 1987 and had largely used it to house its Dodge and Jeep engineering offices. Likewise, AMC — the successor to Nash, which moved into the building following its 1937 merger with Kelvinator — used the facility for engineering offices after it moved its headquarters in 1975 from Plymouth Road to the American Center in Southfield, Michigan.

The city of Detroit turned down an offer to take possession of the property, leading to the Wayne County land Bank’s custody.

Martinez said that, while the land bank has seen some interest in the property, it has no timeline for disposing of the site and it has not completed an appraisal of the property to determine what it may be worth. More than 900 vacant industrial buildings dot the city’s landscape, according to a recent Detroit Future City report; the Plymouth Road complex is the largest such property that the Wayne County Land Bank has taken on in recent memory.