Detroit's abandoned Packard plant could soon be a site of revitalization. Photograph by Joshua Lott/Getty Images
Detroit's abandoned Packard plant could soon be a site of revitalization. Photograph by Joshua Lott/Getty Images

The old Packard plant is the archetypal symbol of Detroit’s decline. Open up a newspaper or magazine story on Detroit’s woes, and a picture of that hulking ruin will likely accompany it, with a description of how scrap thieves and arsonists are stripping bare its bones. It is one of the spookiest places I have ever been, the last remnant of a vanished company from a vanished era.

But perhaps it won’t be so spooky for long. A developer is looking to revitalize the site. Not necessarily the plant -- that may be torn down, which seems a bit of a pity. But the vast acreage of Detroit’s largest abandoned site is supposed to be turned back to productive use:

Where others see 40 acres (16 hectares) of devastation, Fernando Palazuelo of Lima, Peru, sees charisma, architectural challenge -- and a bargain. He paid $405,000 in a tax-foreclosure sale to obtain the industrial wreck by year-end. He plans to make it a vibrant hub of automotive suppliers, offices, shops, lofts and maybe even a go-kart track in the city that filed the largest U.S. municipal bankruptcy.

This is a welcome development in a city that needs welcome developments. On the other hand, the price he paid for so much acreage tells you just how difficult that development will be. You can will a development into existence, if you spend enough money. But you cannot create, by sheer will, the commercial activity needed to occupy it and make it thrive.