Buyer seeks $200M redevelopment of Lee Plaza

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — The abandoned 17-story Lee Plaza Residential Hotel will be renovated into a building boasting around 200 units of luxury, market-rate apartments slated to open in fall 2017, according to buyer and Detroit native Craig Sasser.

The $200 million project will include redevelopments to two adjacent lots as well as the addition of moderate, low and very low-income housing, said Sasser, 63-year-old managing member and CEO of Moneta Energy, LLC.

“It does take every layer to build a village,” he said.

Sasser detailed the project during the 11th annual Breakfast of the Boulevard for the West Grand Boulevard Collaborative organization.

“Development has always been in my heart,” said Sasser, adding that his 88-year-old mother has been involved in around $5 billion worth of redevelopment projects nationwide. “When you see a good project, you know it.”

The Lee Plaza closed in 1993 and has fallen into disrepair since, Sasser said.

“This is a symbol of the shame and decline of what we as citizens have allowed to happen to our city,” Sasser said. “We can’t blame others. We are the solution.”

The hotel has been stripped to the studs but remains standing on a solid foundation of concrete and steel, he said.

“We don’t have to build from the ground up,” Sasser said. “It’s totally sound.”

It also is located in a developer’s dream spot.

“In real estate, it’s location, location, location,” Sasser said. “This is right next to the booming areas of Detroit. Downtown and Midtown are minutes away.”

Sasser and his company are in the process of purchasing the building for $258,000 from the Detroit Housing Commission, he said. The sale should be completed next month.

“We can confirm we are finalizing the sale of the historic Lee Plaza Building to Craig Sasser,” commission executive director Kelley Lyons said Thursday. “The property currently is under historic review by the State Historic Preservation Office of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. We anticipate closing on the transaction next month.”

Lyons also said her organization supports Sasser’s plans to revitalize areas surrounding the hotel.

“We are excited by Craig’s plans for the building, as well as his commitment to neighborhood involvement in the process,” she said.

The building renovation will cost around $34 million, with another $50 million earmarked for adjacent lots. In total, approximately $200 million is expected to be spent redeveloping the hotel and surrounding area, Sasser said.

“One large energy investor” has committed to the entire bill, Sasser said.

Sasser said he is committed to hiring local workers for the project, including ex-Navy SEAL veterans for security during construction as well as students from nearby Northwestern High School.

“You have to be creative about working with our community,” Sasser said. “We want to start that list (of prospective employees) right now.”

Work on the project will begin in January with cleaning crews sweeping through the building, he said. Completed apartments are expected to retail for $1.75 to $2 per square foot, and will feature state-of-the-art technology including electronic artwork and music geared toward the individual resident.

“I’m aiming at people that are into all the toys,” he said. “This is going to be a ‘smart’ building.”

Detroit-based architect firm Hamilton Anderson Associates is working on renderings of the renovated Lee Plaza as well as an adjacent parking structure to feature a rooftop pool during the summer and skating rink in the winter, Sasser said. Meanwhile, Rossetti has been tapped to design an outdoor public gathering space near the old hotel.

WGBC president and co-found Mildred Hunt Robbins praised the development plans in a statement released prior to Thursday’s breakfast.

“The families in the WGBC area welcome news of the redevelopment of the 17-story Lee Plaza icon, a jewel in the City of Detroit, which was in jeopardy of being lost by years of neglect and vandalism,” Robbins said.

“WGBC is especially pleased that the project is being undertaken by a developer who understands the importance of sustainable development, as demonstrated by plans for a zero-energy building, and also the importance of community engagement and collaboration, as demonstrated by relationships now being forged with the WGBC and other community stakeholders.”

The historic Charles Noble building at 2240 W. Grand Blvd. was constructed in 1929 and added to the United States Register of Historic Sites on Nov. 5, 1981, organizers said. It also is registered with the State of Michigan as a Historic Site.

“This project has been adopted by the National Trust for Historic Preservations,” Sasser said. “This is going to be their model for how we can make these old buildings energy efficient.”

Sasser said the renovation coincides with Detroit’s motto.

“It will rise from the ashes,” Sasser said. “I believe that. I believe it is the time.”

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