Packard Plant and Michigan Central Station, Detroit Michigan
I recently had an opportunity to spend a day driving around Detroit. One day isn't nearly enough time to see all there is to see in Detroit, so I decided to visit a few places where I'd read about recent changes and then spent a relaxing few hours at Historic Fort Wayne which I had never visited. My father grew up in Detroit and I've been visiting periodically my whole life. The last time I was in town was 2010. I've been reading lots of puff pieces about the revival of Detroit. I've been fairly sceptical about much of that because I have some sense of how vast the city is and how vexing its' problems are. In 2010 I saw little evidence of any revival. In many ways things seemed worse. But this last time, downtown at least, was noticeably more vibrant. My trip down river on West Jefferson made it clear that some parts of the city are definitely getting better and others seem to have stabilized. This is great news. Other areas of the city though were same as ever with a few more vacant lots.
My first stop was the Packard Plant (photo above and below). The Packard Plant is probably the most famous abandoned industrial structure in the United States. It is often photographed and a popular spot for the urbex crowd. I'd read somewhere that the Packard Plant had been purchased and there were plans in the works to preserve or reuse it. I didn't see any signs of work being done when I visited in August 2017 but I could have missed something. I did see a private security car, which I'm pretty sure is a new thing. The group (Arte Express) that purchased the building has also started offering tours every weekend for $40. I missed the first tour by one week. I don't know for sure that I would have gone. Part of me wants to be sad about the commercialization of everything. But I'm happy that people are starting to understand that the abandoned industrial hulks of Detroit can be assets, and they can be capitalized and therefore they should be saved. Ruined buildings have an appeal to many. Places like the Joliet Prison in Joliet, the City Methodist Church in Gary and the Packard Plant in Detroit are among the most visited tourist destinations in those cities. So, if it means they can be saved, then why not try to earn income from them? Not many auto plants have survived the wrecking ball. I also visited the Studebaker Plant in South Bend Indiana on my recent trip. It pales in comparison to the Packard Plant. The surviving sections of Studebaker are much smaller and much less interesting. When the big three abandon a plant they, typically, immediately demolish it to avoid paying property taxes on improved land. There really aren't many standing auto plants that were active through the span of time that Packard was.
I next drove by the Eastern Market and through Downtown. I was surprised and happy to see the streets and sidewalks full of people. I did not stop to check on the Heidelberg Project. I've read that, unfortunately, a few of the project's houses had been burned since my last visit. I had heard that Michigan Central Station had been stabilized and plans were in the works to reuse it as well. Michigan Central Station (below) had been abandoned and open to the elements since the 1990s. It had reached an advanced state of decay by the early 2000s. As of 2017 the station is secured and has new windows. It's similar in some respect to Buffalo's Central Terminal. But whereas Buffalo Central Terminal is remote, Michigan Central is close to Downtown. Michigan Central is also close to Corktown and the southwest side which are some of the healthiest areas of the city. Michigan Central Station is owned by the same family, the Morouns, who own the Ambassador Bridge. They have been blocking the construction of a new bridge to Ontario for ages in an attempt to hang on to their monopoly. This has probably caused Detroit considerable economic damage. It's possible that they might leave Michigan Central empty for as long, thus depriving the city of the potential economic development.
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