Fight over historic zone near new Wings arena drags on

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

The battle over creating a city historic district in the shadow of the Detroit Red Wings future home failed to get resolved Thursday. And the list of property owners critical of what’s included in the proposed zone is growing.

On Thursday, the idea of a Cass Park Historic District remained stuck in a City Council committee for the second consecutive month. It’s going to stay in that committee until April 7, which is the next time the plan may have a shot at advancing to a full City Council debate. City officials and representatives for the Wings owner said they need more time to find a compromise of what buildings should be included in the proposed district.

Olympia Development, which represents Wings owner Mike Ilitch, wants three empty buildings left out of the historic district. The city has refused the request. The buildings are controlled by entities linked to Olympia Development.

“I think they understand we are not trying to weaken their concerns,” said Maurice Cox, the city’s planning director, referring to the ongoing talks with Olympia Development. He told the council committee, “We are trying to strengthen their investments” by protecting the historic nature of the neighborhood.

The potential district is a jigsaw-puzzle-shaped area that includes 22 buildings clustered around Temple Street and Park. If the buildings become part of an official city historic district, it would be tougher to gain permission to tear the buildings down or significantly change their looks.

The three empty buildings are the former Wil-Mar garage at 131 Temple, the former Alden apartments at 145 Temple and the former William E. Cole apartments at 2753 Park.

They are less than one block from the $627 million new venue, which is being built now and scheduled to open in 2017. One block away is the future Wayne State University Mike Ilitch School of Business, which will be built at the southwest corner of Woodward and Temple.

The neighborhood is seeing a flurry of investment sparked by the new arena. The Ilitches have big plans to transform 45 blocks around the venue with new housing, office and retail. More than $1 billion in investment has already been committed and more is coming, Olympia contends.

Also on Thursday, two other building owners in the area said they were unhappy with the boundaries of the proposed historic district. The owners of the Mariners Inn say they don’t want to be in the historic zone because they are getting too many lucrative offers to buy their building. The owner of the shelter is the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. Mariners Inn is a homeless shelter and treatment center.

The Mariners Inn “has concerns of being included in the district,” said Laura Weingartner, an attorney representing the diocese, which is one block away from the new arena.

Members of the nearby Vietnam Veterans chapter, which has its offices on Woodward, say they want to be part of the district. The Vietnam Vets building is currently not among the buildings in the proposed district.

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