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Plan for Red Wings arena neighborhood on hold

Christine Ferretti and Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — A revamped plan promising more green space and affordable housing opportunities in the district around the new Red Wings arena will remain in a City Council committee for now.

The council’s Planning and Economic Development subcommittee decided to hold off on recommending the plan to the full council after a much-anticipated presentation and discussion Thursday involving Olympia Development of Michigan. The zoning request is slated to return to the committee next week.

“There’s still a number of questions to be clarified before we move this forward,” committee member Scott Benson said in regard to queries about traffic, parking, historic property and housing options.

Olympia is seeking a zoning change from the council so construction can begin on the $450 million arena. The multi-purpose venue is expected to open in the summer of 2017.

The zoning change has been hung up since late last year after several council members wanted modifications to address concerns over parking, traffic and the fate of two historic buildings.

Richard Heapes, a consultant for Olympia, said Thursday that the developer is confident in the improvements made in its plan.

“...We are anxious to get this approved through council so that we can get started out there,” he said, adding that the time line is “getting uncomfortably close.”

But some members of the council, including Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, who does not sit on the subcommittee, stressed concern over traffic congestion and the need to for affordable housing that appeals to families and older residents as well as the younger population.

Among the new components of the plan for the $650 million, 45-block district north of downtown is a commitment from the Ilitch organization to ensure that 20 percent of housing in the five new neighborhoods is affordable.

A rendering for one of the new residential buildings was also unveiled: the renovated former Eddystone Hotel with 80-100 residential units. It’s a long-vacant, 13-story building on the edge of the future home ice of the Detroit Red Wings.

The other vacant building, the 90-year-old former Park Avenue Hotel, must be demolished, Ilitch officials say.

That building, also known as the former Harbor Light, needs to be razed because it is in a high-security zone of the proposed arena. In its place, an underground loading dock should be built to ensure the multipurpose venue can accommodate major concerts and other events.

Preservationists, resident and neighborhood advisory committee members turned up at Thursday’s meeting to react to the revised plan, sharing a mix of praise and criticism.

Emilie Evans, a preservation specialist with the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, says she’s advocating for both hotels to be spared under the plan.

“This is a pair of buildings,” she told the committee. “Now is the time to let the history of the decisions that you make, and that we make collectively, live on in those buildings for another 100 years.”

Midtown homeowner Nick Miller said demolishing the Park Hotel would be a waste.

“...It should be remembered that a hockey arena will probably only last 20-30 years and it doesn’t make sense to tear down an historic property ... for a temporary facility’s loading dock,” he said.

But Jason Gappa, a member of the 12-member Neighborhood Advisory Committee keeping tabs on Olympia, said the group is pleased with changes in the developers plan.

“The NAC believes that preservation of historic assets, such as Eddystone, is a vital redevelopment strategy and is encouraged that Olympia has found a significant historic property to include in this major phase of development,” he said.

After the meeting, Castaneda-Lopez sounded unconvinced that Olympia needed 1,100 parking spaces in the garage next to the arena. About 800 spaces would serve to those who rent suites in the arena — the most expensive way to watch — as well as players and other members affiliated to the team and events at the venue.

Castaneda-Lopez said she was concerned that garage and truck traffic that will rely on Cass Avenue will have too much of a negative impact on the neighborhood, especially Cass Tech High School.

Olympia is also now proposing an 1,100-space parking structure on site, down from the initial proposal for 1,200 spaces. Castaneda-Lopez had asked Olympia to cut the number of parking spaces around the arena to 600.

The zoning request centers on four blocks between Woodward and Cass that includes the arena, two above-ground parking garages and mixed-use space. Those four blocks are just one of five new neighborhoods expected to be created that will cover 45 blocks.