August 25, 2014 at 10:19 pm

Preservationists fight razing of historic Detroit high-rise

The Park Avenue Building in Grand Circus Park was designed by Albert Kahn in 1922 during the city's golden age of architecture. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Detroit —Historic preservationists are rallying to stop the city from demolishing an empty Albert Kahn-designed building in Grand Circus Park.

An online petition to save the former Park Avenue Building was started Monday morning on change.org. More than 125 had signed by the afternoon. The campaign to save the historic building has support from the president of the board at Preservation Detroit and the influential HistoricDetroit.org, which posted a link to the petition on its Facebook page.

“Do not demolish the Park Avenue building,” is the headline of the petition started by Detroit resident Samantha Farr. “After decades of careless demolition, Detroit cannot afford to lose any more of its beautiful high-rise buildings, especially one that helps encircle the historic Grand Circus Park.”

Last week, The Detroit News reported the city is taking legal steps to tear down the 12-story Park Avenue Building, which is on the northwest corner of West Adams and Park. It has been empty since at least the late ’90s.

Albert Kahn designed the Park Avenue in 1922, according to the city of Detroit planning department. Kahn is the architect most associated with Detroit’s golden era of architecture. At least 50 buildings he designed in in Detroit have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The city wants Wayne Court Circuit Court Judge Robert Colombo Jr. to declare the site a public danger and issue a preliminary injunction against the private owner and order immediate demolition. Court records identify the owner as Ralph Sachs, doing business as Triangle Management.

Sachs faces a Sept. 19 hearing in the Park Avenue case.

The city of Detroit Law Department described the condition of the building as “open, vacant and dangerous,” in a court filing in Wayne County Circuit Court. “It is the very definition of irreparable harm to the public,” the court filing said.

The building has a crumbling brick veneer, a damaged fire escape that could potentially fall off and doors that are open sometimes on the ground floor, the city attorneys said in the court filing.

Amy Elliott Bragg, president of the board at Preservation Detroit, and others argue that in a rebounding downtown that’s attracting steady investment, demolishing a historic building is shortsighted.

“It will reward rather than hold accountable an owner who has deliberately destroyed his property,” Bragg wrote in the comments section of the online petition. She was referring to the fact the building owner will retain control of the property after leveling the structure.

“It will waste a building that appears to be structurally sound and could be redeveloped, creating investment and economic development in the community,” Bragg writes.

The block where Park Avenue stands is slated to become “Columbia Park,” one of the new neighborhoods that’s part of the $650 million, 45-block planned development anchored by the new home ice for the Detroit Red Wings.

Columbia Park will be bordered by Interstate 75 service drive to the north, Bagley to the south, Park to the east and Grand River to the west. The website DistrictDetroit.com describes the future area as “a fresh, modern neighborhood anchored by a new public green space.” .

The driving force behind the new 45-block district is Olympia Development of Michigan, the real estate company owned by Michael and Marian Ilitch. Ilitch companies include the Detroit Red Wings and Little Caesar Enterprises. Michael Ilitch owns the Detroit Tigers. Marian Ilitch owns the MotorCity Casino Hotel.

Olympia Development hopes to break ground on the $450 million arena along with another $200 million in development as soon as possible. Some construction could begin next month. The 650,000-square-foot sports and events center and much of the development are slated to open in the summer of 2017.

laguilar@detroitnews.com
Twitter: LouisAguilar_DN