- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 16, 2017

DETROIT (AP) - A ceremonial groundbreaking kicked off work on the first phase of redevelopment at the hulking Packard auto plant on Detroit’s east side.

Crews were removing debris and grinding floors Tuesday ahead of coming construction at the plant’s 121,000-square-foot administration building, according to Kari M. Smith, spokeswoman for Arte Express Detroit and Packard plant owner Fernando Palazuelo.

Palazuelo, a Peruvian developer who also is Arte Express‘ chief executive, bought the complex in 2013 for $405,000 at a tax foreclosure auction. He wants to turn it into apartments, retail shops and art galleries.

The initial phase at the administration building is expected to cost about $16 million and take about two years to complete. Renovating the entire 3.5 million-square-foot (0.33 million sq. meter) site is expected to take up to 15 years at a cost of $500 million.

“I am committed to the success of this project. I assure you we will not fail,” Palazuelo said at the groundbreaking.

The plant long has been a symbol of Detroit’s urban decay and past automotive glory. The Packard Automotive Co. built it in 1903, but by 1954 the structure had become obsolete and Packard car production was being done elsewhere. The company would go out of business a few years later.

Detroit took over the complex in 1994 when an investor failed to pay taxes. Another company later took ownership but also would lose the property due to unpaid taxes.

Palazuelo has said that over the past 40 years he’s redeveloped more than 120 buildings, some historic and primarily in Spain and Lima, Peru, into mixed-use residential and retail.

Redeveloping the Packard plant is the “project of projects,” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said at the groundbreaking.

Fernando’s track record throughout the world shows he’s not a novice,” Evans later told The Associated Press.

Dan Wydick, 33, of St. Clair Shores, and Andi Dunkin, 31, of Windsor, Ontario, attended the groundbreaking and took cellphone photos of the plant’s exterior.

“I’m kind of blown away by the scale of it,” Wydick said of the plant which covers several city blocks. “It’s historical Detroit.”

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