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Report: How can Detroit effectively reuse its vacant industrial sites?

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The Packard Plant is starting a multi-year renovation process.
Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

In the past few years, we’ve seen development take shape in Detroit in Downtown, Midtown, and throughout much of the 7.2 miles surrounding downtown. A new report from Detroit Future City addresses a larger development issue in areas throughout Detroit — what do we do with the massive, decaying, vacant industrial sites around the city?

Just a couple weeks ago, we saw the groundbreaking for one of the largest renovations in North America - the expansive Packard Plant project. It’s taken years just to get to the groundbreaking and the project will be broken up into manageable phases of the 40 acre site over the next 10-15 years.

DFC’s report highlights some of the challenges facing these industrial sites, including:

  • Location near low-income areas, where blight continues to drive down property values,
  • Contamination from years of vacancy,
  • The size of some of the larger-scale sites, although there are many around 10,000 square feet, and
  • Ownership changing hands repeatedly, through foreclosures and auctions.

The report advocates for smart adaptive reuse of the industrial properties, and cites global examples to draw inspiration from. This includes a Fiat factory in Torino, Italy which is now used for shopping, entertainment, and more; a large greenhouse in Chicago that grows produce year round; and an urban village in Germany that has, “a studio for circus acrobats, a children’s theatre, a cake shop, a nursery, and a nightclub.”

The report recognizes the obstacles in renovating these projects. Its recommendations moving forward are:

  • “Address building and zoning code barriers to building reuse and streamline plan review processes for adaptive projects.
  • Build the capacity of local developers to tackle adaptive reuse projects.
  • Sharpen financial tools and incentives for building reuse, including the expansion and reform of the State’s Community Revitalization program and reinstatement of the State Historic Tax Credit.
  • Integrating building reuse strategies into the major planning initiatives underway or planned across the city.”

The full report can be read here. As always, we’re interested in hearing your thoughts on particular sites and adaptive reuse possibilities. What kind of projects do you think have potential here (we kind of love the warehouse conversion into greenhouse)? We could see a lot of warehouse conversions along the East Riverfront in the coming years. How can Detroit utilize its industrial past for an innovative future? Let us know what you think. Our comments and tip line are open.