The former plant dominates the 35-acre site. With Casab's lawyer unable to detail his client's plans and the city unsure of a further appeal, the property's future remains unclear.
City loses site fight
State court denies Detroit's Packard title bid
Doug Guthrie / The Detroit News
-- The city has lost a 10-year battle over ownership of the historic Packard Motor Car Co. plant to an old nemesis -- land speculator Romel Casab.
In a blow to the city's efforts to clear the 35-acre site and sell it to developers, the Michigan Supreme Court this week denied Detroit's appeal of a lower court's decision that put the property back in the hands of private owners including Casab.
He's the Commerce Township man fighting the city in court over ownership of the Millennium parking garage near Cobo Center, and with Wayne County over land vital to a $14 million project to build a railroad bridge in Plymouth. Casab bought both parcels at foreclosure sales.
"Being a Rust Belt city, with a lot of facilities like this, some that go back 100 years, what do you do?" asked Matt Allen, spokesman for Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
"Some should be demolished, some can be reused. Somehow, we need to get titles and environmental issues cleared. But, at this point, this one is not a P&D (planning and development) issue so much as it is a legal issue."
The 100-year-old plant is rich in history, built by architect Albert Kahn and producing more than 1.5 million luxury vehicles until 1956. Its recent history has been colored by lawsuits and accusations Detroit used strong-armed tactics to gain possession of the 3.5-million-square-foot complex.
Now riddled with graffiti and broken windows, the plant at East Grand and Mount Elliott has been sought by the city since 1997, when Mayor Dennis Archer tried to foreclose because of more than $1 million in back taxes.
A year later, 89 tenants in the complex claimed Detroit tried to force them out by erecting a 12-foot fence, beginning demolition and posting a 24-hour police guard, according to court papers. The city had secured $3.8 million in state funds to tear it down and hoped to lure developers by placing it in an Empowerment Zone that qualifies for tax breaks.
The Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that the city couldn't foreclose because $700,000 paid in taxes was enough to retain control.
The future of the once-grand plant is unclear. Allen said he's unsure whether the city will appeal. Casab's attorney, Barry Steinway couldn't detail plans for the facility.
Proposals to build a museum on the site and resume production of the Packard car appeared to dim in November when Dominic Cristini, who also had a financial interest in the plant and pushed the plans, was sentenced to five years in prison for conspiracy to distribute the drug Ecstasy.