Detroit has been described by some as a ghost town. The city of Detroit has been going through abandonment issues since as early as the 1960s. Around 70,000 buildings, 31,000 homes, and 90,000 vacant lots all abandoned in Detroit.
Detroit has many abandoned factories, warehouses, churches, and hospitals, some are famous worldwide, such as the Northville State Hospital. Others less so, such as Detroit’s Motor Transportation Garage.
In 1929, the U.S. Government built a warehouse and manufacturing facility across from Detroit City Airport, which was then just a small grass airstrip. It was made up of three major buildings: A two story brick office facing French Road, the long warehouse / factory floor, and a stamping building on the southwest side of the plant.
Exactly what was made or stored at the plant isn’t immediately known, as details of it’s early history are few. It was retained by the U.S. Government after the Second World War as a Naval Industrial Reserve Plant, until the factory was put up for auction in 1958.
At some point Chrysler bought the facility, which became the company’s French Road Warehouse. Chrysler listed the property for sale along with other surplus facilites in 1980. In 1984, HRT Enterprises bought the vacant plant for $450,000, and leased it to several steel companies, including Merkur Supply and City Steel, which processed and refined steel.
The business proved to be profitable, and the owners looked to expand their plant with a new 40,000 square foot addition in 1989.
By 1987 though, the City of Detroit was looking to expand the nearby Detroit City Airport (later renamed Coleman Young International Airport). The grass airstrip had grown through the 1930’s as terminals and modern runways were built, but most of the commercial passenger airlines left for other fields such as the current Wayne County Metropolitan Airport in 1946 and 1947.
Detroit City found a niche in serving the private and corporate-owned aircraft of wealthy residents and businesses, but continued to bring back a commercial passenger airline to serve the city. In 1987, Southwest Airlines began offering flights, but were limited to using smaller planes by the airport’s short runways and cramped space. To alleviate these conditions, the city embarked on an expansion plan in 1988 which would cut into the nearby neighborhood, and involve buying and tearing down over 100 homes to make way for a safety buffer.
Directly in the path of the airport expansion, however, was the steel plant – and with their business booming, the owners were looking to expand.
The initial requests for building permits for the addition to the steel plant were turned down by the city, which was going to be buying the property anyways and didn’t want an expensive addition adding to the acquisition cost. While this made financial sense early on, the airport expansion project soon stalled and was postponed by several years.
In the meantime, the city continued to turn down requests by Merkur and City Steel for permits to expand the plant, which would have allowed the company to process larger coils of steel, which in turn directly affected their ability to stay competitive in the steel processing market.
Nor did the city condemn the property and offer to buy it out for a fair market price. Instead, the city waited, figuring that eventually Merkur and City Steel would move or go out of business, allowing the city to buy the property at a reduced price.
In 1999, the companies filed a lawsuit against the city for “inverse condemnation,” arguing that “that over a period of ten years, the city took steps to inhibit plaintiff’s expansion of its business because the city wanted to expand the airport without having to legally and formally acquire plaintiff’s property.”
The courts agreed, awarding the company over $15 million dollars in damages and lost revenue in 2005. By then, both companies had closed their doors, and the factory on French Road was vacated. The airport expansion plan is no longer being considered.
In 2010 the southwestern part of the factory, including the power plant and pattern shop, was demolished. Scrappers started cutting up the remaining buildings, removing support beams and parts of the ceiling. Demolition on the rest of the plant resumed in the summer of 2013.
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