The Packard Automotive Plant stands as an emblem of modern Detroit. Once the thrumming embodiment of industrial might, it's now a hulking, weed-choked ruin, a tangible symbol of a city in decline.
It wasn't without some trepidation that Wayne County, Michigan officials put the plant's 40 acres up for auction earlier this year after its owners failed to make good on a $975,000 property tax bill. Would some civic-minded developer emerge to snatch it up as a bargain? Or would everyone be scared of by the unmistakable stench of decay?
To everyone's delight, it turned out to be the latter. A Texas woman named Jill Van Horn emerged victorious after a heated bidding war, her $6 million offer besting her rivals, and she soon announced plans to manufacture modular homes and offices.
It quickly became clear to officials and observers alike, however, that there was great cause for concern. Van Horn is a family physician in Ennis with no apparent experience in manufacturing or development, nor does she have any evident connection to Detroit. An alarming number of her Facebook photos feature cats.
When a reporter with the Detroit News reached her husband following the sale, George Van Horn said the bid was "not right" and hung up, but texted later to say that it was, in fact, correct.
When the Van Horns finally released an official statement on Monday headlined "THE POSENTIAL ENERGY IN DETROITS ASSETS," it did little to allay concerns, because it was nonsense
What detaches value from a simple old plant such as Packard and fixes Detroiters to realize its capital?
We can begin to finally answer by using an energy analogy that was put forth by Hernando Deesoto.
Consider Mountain Lake we can think about this lake in its immediate physical context and see come primary use for it such as canoeing and fishing.
But when we think about this same lake as an engineer would, by focusing on its capacity to generate energy as an additional value beyond the lakes natural state as a body of water. We suddenly see the potential created by the lakes elevated position. The challenge for the engineer, is the same challenge that all Detroiters face today, finding out how he can create a process that allows him to convert and fix this potential into a form that can be used to do additional work. IN the case of the elevated lake, that process is contained in a hydroelectric plant that allows the lake water to move rapidly downward with the force of gravity. Thereby tranforming the placid lakes potential into kinetic energy of tumbling water. The electric magnets that further convert into electrical energy.
In case you're wondering, there's no lake at the Packard site. Van Horn is using this imagined "Placid Lake" as an extended metaphor for the type of visionary thinking that's needed to fix Detroit. Luckily for the city, Jill Van Horn is that visionary.
Dr Van Horn has assembled the Investment bankers, Hedge Fund Lenders, Private Investors and several Foundations, who intend to merge their financial resources with the local developers in Detroit, to transorm the dorman capital the lies in every real estate parcel in the city of Detroit, into a fixed value of capital that will beneefit all of the cities residence. Prior to placing the bid on the Packard Plant, Dr. Van Horn's prophecy was to resurrect Detroit by providing education, jobs and vocational training to the city's residence, simultaneously unplugging the financial arteries of the city.
Despite her impressive coalition of partners, Van Horn missed a Wednesday deadline to make a partial payment of $2 million on the property. Van Horn reportedly called to request a two-week extension of the deadline, but David Szymanski, Wayne County's chief deputy treasurer, told the Detroit Free Press, "We're not comfortable waiting that long." His office canceled the sale.
It's a shame, too, because Van Horn had a vision not just for the Packard plant but for the entire city of Detroit.
"Dr. Van Horn and her lenders, investors are prepared to travel from Texas to Detroit and sit down with the county and make an offer for every vacant, abandoned and dilapidated apartment building within Detroit," the statement said. "Not only are we prepared to show that we have the ability to perform, but we are ready to perform."
Now, they won't get the chance.