My favorite Bible verse of all time is Ecclesiastes 3:1. It reads “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.(King James Version)”. For a neighborhood on the eastside of Detroit, that time is now. The old Packard car plant which lay dormant for years is about to receive new life from across the seas. European billionaire Fernando Palazuelo purchased the old 3,500,000 square foot complex with hopes of bringing new business and jobs to an area in desperate need of a boost.
A town hall was held at Holy Ghost Cathedral in the next block down from the old building under the leadership of Bishop Corletta Vaughn. A rainy Thursday evening would bring the new owner of the Packard building together with his new neighbors for the first time. Cameras from the new reality series “Preachers of Detroit” were rolling to show the world this event. “It’s an exciting night” Bishop Vaughn opens with a smile. That excitement was shared by all in attendance. A small church with a Bishop who’s personality is as large as life itself, filled to capacity to hear a big announcement that will change the face of the eastside of Detroit forever. All walks of life came to hear what was coming. The plant closed in 1958 and once employed 40,000 people. This was the first ray of hope in the area in 56yrs. Everyone that came through the door was grateful decades of apathy on East Grand Blvd was coming to an end.
Fernando Palazuelo had great success in Peru refurbishing buildings and making them suitable for business. Mr. Palazuelo presented a power point of his accomplishments in Lima, Peru. His first set of slides highlighted his success with buildings in Peru as old as the Packard. His methods were to preserve as much of the original buildings as possible while at the same time give them an artistic facelift. His passion for art is prevalent in the buildings featured in the slides. Palazuelo’s company Arte Express will now focus on the old Packard plant. In fact, they have established Arte Express Detroit LLC to symbolize their commitment to Detroit. This will be no small feat. The total time for the renovation is expected to take 7-15yrs with 1500yrds of debris already cleared.
A Q&A followed. The Dais Included, Fernando Palazuelo, Kari Smith Packard Project Manager, and City Council President Brenda Jones; moderated by Bishop Corletta Vaughn. Anyone in attendance had the opportunity to express any concerns or to ask questions any questions they wished pertaining to the city or the Packard Plant development and indeed they did! One after another, residents approached the microphone to express what was on their minds and hearts. Some just wanted to thank him for his investment in the community. A few asked about jobs and opportunities for skilled trades. One business owner was concerned about the lack of adequate lighting in the area. Another was concerned about the effect of the construction on her business which borders the old Packard Plant. The most heartfelt concerns came from the firefighters who manned the fire station in the next block. The words they shared shook everyone in attendance. As the veteran first responder stepped forward, all eyes were fixed upon him as one of the most important members of the community. Then he spoke. He acknowledged Bishop Vaughn and her husband Pastor Gilbert Vaughn as having supported them in the community since the beginning of the church over 20yrs ago. Especially, during the loss of one their fellow fireman killed in the line of duty. He also welcomed Mr. Palazuelo to the area and pledged the support of the station but there was a problem. The fireman informed all in attendance that the station will soon close due to budget cuts. They were told the news by their superiors at their last meeting. The station itself is one of oldest in the city. It was built back when horses pulled the water pumps. The original hayloft used to feed the horses is still there. Also due to budget cuts, the station is not equipped to handle full scale fires and their current rig is scaled down to handle small fires and rescues only.
Everyone was taken aback by this news. City Council President Brenda Jones used her phone to seek the truth of the Fireman’s claim and was notified via text that the station was not being closed. The Fireman was unmoved by the text. He knew what he was told and the conditions in which he worked, upheld his beliefs. Bishop Vaughn was very concerned as was Mr. Palazuelo. The people in the seats sat stunned. The neighborhood as a whole wanted to know what was going on with their fire station and as a community, felt a little less safe. This would be the first time in a long while this community spoke as one. The Firemen who protected this community now had the strength of the community on their side.
Once the meeting was adjourned, Bishop Vaughn and Mr. Palazuelo greeted all who stayed after. Those who brought resumes, got a chance to give them to Mr. Palazuelo personally. After all, these are his neighbors and he spoke to each person as such. I sat at my table and smiled. I couldn’t stop smiling. Detroit’s revitalization was happening in one of the most unlikeliest of locations. So unlikely that none of Detroit’s major news outlets made it to the event. Of course, they got the story of the first announcements but they didn’t get this. They didn’t witness the faces of excitement I saw. They didn’t sit in the presence of this abundance of hope. I witnessed one of the most decimated communities in Detroit find their way again. It was like witnessing a whole neighborhood wake from a brutal coma. It can easily be said that while I sat in the back of this church, I witnessed a neighborhood blessed like no other. Holla if you hear me.