From left Jim Rehberg, Simone Sagovac, Carol Forsythe, and Beth Szurpicki work a game designed to create new ideas for how the entertainment district could be developed during a public meeting Wednesday at the Allied Media Project in Detroit to discuss the new district. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
Detroit —The historic park across from the Masonic Temple, vacant land maintained by Vietnam War veterans and three scruffy blocks near the MotorCity Casino Hotel are among 37 city properties expected to be handed over to Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch for the new entertainment district north of downtown.
The properties are in a gritty neighborhood poised for $650 million worth of development. There’s the $450 million new home ice for the Wings on Woodward, and $200 million of new housing, bars, restaurants, parking garages and maybe a hotel.
The 37 properties are adding fuel to the speculation where the non-arena development could land. Many properties are close to Temple.
But the new entertainment district covers 45 blocks — and a good chunk of it is empty or blighted, especially in the Cass Corridor neighborhood. That’s sparking a rush on property no one wanted for decades. Recently, garages, former flop houses and half falling-down buildings have netted seven-figure offers from mystery buyers, according to developers. Few of the prices are publicly recorded.
“The atmosphere right now is crazy; the limit hasn’t been set yet on price,” said Robert Slattery, president of Midtown Development Group.
The development guessing game is frustrating some residents. “Aren’t we allowed to know this by now?” asked Francis Grunow, a Cass Corridor resident and member of the Corridors Alliance, a group keeping track of the development plan as it winds its way through the approval process of various government agencies.
The answer is no. Wednesday night, more than 200 crammed into the Cass Corridor offices of Allied Media Projects to hear plan details. At one point, Grunow stood in front of a map highlighting the potential land transfers. The map was headlined “What do we know?” Officials have given out only a vague timeline — within the next few years — about where the new non-arena development could go.
If things go as planned, Cass Corridor and parts of downtown will be recast as a flourishing area anchored by a new Red Wings arena. The district is a years-long goal pursued by the Detroit Downtown Development Authority and Olympia Development of Michigan, the property development arm of Mike and Marian Ilitch’s $2 billion business empire.
Details began to emerge last year. The arena will be built along Woodward just north of downtown.
In February, the Detroit City Council is expected to take up the land transfer issue. The properties are owned by the city or the Economic Development Corp., a quasi-public agency that manages real estate available for redevelopment. The land, which would be first transferred to the downtwon development agency, may eventually be given to Olympia Development.
In exchange, Olympia has agreed to give up properties where the arena will be built. Olympia paid at least $48 million for dozens of properties in the district, city documents show.
Most of the city properties Olympia may get are clustered around an eight-block stretch of Temple. Of the 37 properties, 25 are empty lots between Third and Fourth near Grand River, not far from the MotorCity Casino Hotel. Mike Ilitch’s wife, Marian, owns that business, and the broad entertainment district would geographically link the casino with additional venues, perhaps increasing its pool of customers.
Another property is the square Cass Park near the Masonic Temple. Based on public documents, Olympia appears to have agreed to maintain it as a park.
Another cluster of properties is at the northwest corner of Temple and Woodward, just past the footprint of the arena. That property has been maintained by the nearby Vietnam Veterans of America, whose Detroit chapter is adjacent to the empty lots.
The veterans group has said it is in talks with Ilitch officials about building a permanent memorial site in another part of the city.
There are many options for Olympia to build in the district. Olympia also controls a number of unused buildings and empty lots around its Fox Theatre headquarters. Three Ilitch buildings — Detroit Life, Blenheim and 1922 Cass — have been cited as potential development projects.
Documents also cite Woodward and Sproat — an area actually mapped out for the arena — as a potential site for a 140,000-square-foot building.
The next step in the approval process is for the City Council to approve the transfer of ownership of the 37 city properties.
George Jackson, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., sounded optimistic last month. Jackson is playing a pivotal role in the overall development deal. The Downtown Development Authority is a unit of the economic growth agency.
“We will resolve the issues as it relates to the land property issue,” Jackson said. “The real issue is sitting down and working out what else is required in regards to making the community feel comfortable, and we’ll do that.”
The 650,000-square-foot, 18,000-seat multipurpose arena is slated to be built on a patch of Woodward about four blocks north of the Fox Theatre and Comerica Park, home of Ilitch’s Detroit Tigers. The area carved out for the arena is bordered by Woodward on the east and Cass on the west, Temple to the north and the freeway service drive to the south, according to city documents.
It is not yet known if the arena will actually take up that entire space.
The entertainment district generally reaches from Grand Circus Park to Charlotte between Woodward and Grand River.