Owners of the Detroit Red Wings and a firm they have used to buy other properties are gobbling up parking lots and buildings around the Masonic Temple, which is two blocks from the hockey team’s new arena now under construction.
It’s the latest in the street-by-street land grab in the Cass Corridor, where once-unheard-of prices are being paid for properties yet to be developed.
The focus this time is near historic Cass Park and the Masonic Temple, the Gothic beauty that is the fraternal organization’s largest temple in the world. It has struggled for years as the surrounding neighborhood declined.
Since last year, millions of dollars have been paid for surface lots, an empty former church, a warehouse and a small Art Deco office building near the temple. That’s in addition to the sale of other nearby blighted properties in recent years.
Masonic Temple, owned by the Detroit Masonic Temple Association, is on the other side of Cass Avenue from the new arena. The 18,000-seat multipurpose venue is slated to open in 2017. The arena is expected to be an economic game-changer that will overhaul the surrounding 45 blocks into dense, walkable districts full of new residents, offices and retail. Much of the area now includes Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods.
The Ilitch family organization is the main driver of the development plan. Details for the ancillary development are largely unknown. One thing is clear: The price to buy property in the area continues to dramatically increase.
“The Ilitch activity certainly has sparked lots of interest” from many potential buyers, said Gary Smith, a commercial real estate broker for Marcus & Millichap. “It’s a bit like the Wild West.”
The Ilitches’ Olympia Development of Michigan has recently bought a group of parking lots on Cass near Temple Street as well as on Charlotte Street, said Masonic Temple president Roger Sobran. Other Ilitch purchases include a warehouse on Cass across from the new arena.
“We have a really good working relationship with Olympia and we are going to keep working with them,” Sobran said.
The parking lots and warehouse were sold by the Detroit Shriners organization to a limited liability corporation, TSD Solutions Inc. TSD is one of the firms used by Ilitches in the recent past to buy Cass Corridor property
Only one of the Shriners sales is publicly recorded at this point. The warehouse sold for $2.1 million in 2014. The Shriners paid $118,000 for the facility in 1983, public records shows. The fraternal organization used the facility to park buses.
A source familiar with the sale provided documents that show a total of $7 million was paid for the warehouse and parking lots last year. The source, who doesn’t have permission to speak publicly about the deal, requested anonymity.
Beyond the Shriners sale, six properties have been bought for a total for $7.6 million since last year, public records show. The buyer is the same limited liability corporation, TSD Solutions Inc, involved in the Shriners sale.
Among the sales in the Cass Park area:
■In 2014, $5.5 million was paid for four adjacent parking lots on Second Avenue in front of the Masonic Temple, public records show.
■In 2014, a 17,800-square-foot building, 2700 Second, that’s been empty for several years sold for $475,000. In 2012, an investor bought the same property for $90,000 from the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. The building is on same block of the Second Avenue parking lots bought last year.
■Earlier this year, $1.6 million was paid for the Michigan Chronicle building at 479 Ledyard, which is across the street from Cass Park and near Second. The recorded buyer is Olympia Development.
The Ilitch organization did not comment on the transactions. Several of the sellers also declined comment or could not be reached.
TSD Solutions has an East Lansing address and its only contact on state records is a firm called CSC-Lawyers Inc. Calls to the East Lansing office, a law firm that is not CSC Lawyers, were not returned. CSC is an international company, based in Delaware, whose main business is to “form corporations and maintain their good standing in thousands of U.S. and international jurisdictions,” according to its website.
The use of limited liability corporations, LLCs, is common in commercial real estate transactions, several brokers said.
“One of the points of using an LLC is to shield the real buyer and what they have planned,” said Stan Finsilver, executive vice president of Friedman Integrated Real Estate Solutions. “To be honest, there is so much outside interest in Detroit, you can’t really say that this same LLC is being used by someone besides the Ilitches.”
The sales come at a time when the city is working on a plan to make part of the Cass Park area a historic district. That would make it harder to get city permission to tear down buildings. The properties sold recently are not included in the proposed district.
Cass Park takes up a square block between Temple and Ledyard. The surrounding neighborhood has been redubbed “Cass Park Village” by Ilitch officials and others who are starting to market the area.
This is how Cass Park Village is being marketed: “Part entrepreneurial, part punk, this neighborhood has been conceived with individuality and expression in mind,” reads the description on DistrictDetroit.com, the website that is central point of information of the 45-block development plan.
The Ilitches have committed to invest at least another $200 million for other developments, beyond the arena, in the district. The entire project has an estimated economic benefit of $1.8 billion, officials said.
Olympia officials are lobbying city officials to change the boundaries of the proposed Cass Park historic district. At a public meeting last month, Olympia officials revealed they intend to double the width of Temple Street between Cass and Woodward in order to accommodate traffic flow. Olympia officials also hinted they plan to redevelop three empty buildings on Temple. They also implied they may want to raze three buildings in the proposed historic district.
The plans were revealed to the Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board. The City Council eventually must approve the district.