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DETROIT — Demolition of the long-vacant Packard auto plant in Detroit started Thursday as crews began tearing apart an already crumbling exterior wall of the massive structure.

A demolition claw ripped and tugged on decades-old bricks and concrete along the upper floors of the old eastside factory that for generations has been a symbol of urban blight in the Motor City.

The work follows up on a plan by Mayor Mike Duggan to start razing parts of the 3.5 million-square-foot (0.33 million-square-meter) Packard plant complex, which Peruvian developer and owner Fernando Palazuelo failed to do after buying it in 2013.

The city called Thursday’s work an “emergency demolition.” The plant is among dozens of large structures that Detroit officials have identified to be torn down or renovated.

Duggan has said that some parts of complex might be saved for redevelopment.

“The structure is adjacent to an operating business, and creates an imminent danger to that building, its employees and neighborhood residents,” the city said in a news release.

The Packard Automotive Co. built the plant 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 bought the complex for $405,000 at a tax foreclosure auction, saying then that he wanted to turn it into apartments, shops and art galleries. The development never happened.

Palazuelo failed to apply for demolition permits by a court-ordered deadline earlier this year. His noncompliance allowed the city to move forward with demolition plans.

“He broke every single promise until the courts, finally, wouldn’t put up with it anymore,” Duggan said Thursday at the demolition site. “He is under court order to pay for (the demolition). We certainly will go after every asset he has in America, and if we can figure out how to go after his assets in Peru, we’re gonna do that, too.”

Palazuelo didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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