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116-year-old Woodward Avenue building downtown sold

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — A 116-year-old downtown building with empty ground-floor retail is under contract to be sold to a Detroit firm that will keep part of the building as assisted senior housing while aiming to revive the Woodward Avenue storefronts.

The Himelhoch, a seven-story building with entrances on Woodward Avenue and Washington Boulevard, is under contract to be sold to American Community Developers, Inc., according to representatives from both the seller and buyer. The current owners are a McLean, Virginia-based entity named after the building. The sale should close within 30 days, both sides said. The sales price wasn’t disclosed. The building is less than one block south of Grand Circus Park and next to the Aloft Detroit hotel and the David Whitney.

The Himelhoch is already partly used as rental apartments, including 36 units of affordable senior housing; 36 units are market rate. The new owners intend to keep the federal Section 8 senior housing at the building, along with the market rate units, said Michael Essian, vice president of Detroit-based American Community Developers. The firm specializes in buying and renovating affordable housing developments. The company has 90 properties and more than 12,000 residential units in 11 states.

“We are not looking to remove the current residents” who live in the senior housing units, Essian said. American Community Developers has already been awarded $385,500 in federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, LIHTC, issued by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, to renovate the Himelhoch.

The structure was originally an office and retail building and was later leased by the upscale women’s department store Himelhoch Brothers, from 1923 to 1977, according to the Detroit Historical Society. The building is in a section of Washington Boulevard that was part of Augustus Woodward’s 1807 design for the city. The Himelhoch is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For decades, downtown struggled as retail and other businesses left and big empty buildings became common. Now, the building is in a prime spot with the central business district seeing an ongoing revival of restored buildings, new residents and workers, and, soon new public transit, the M-1 Rail.

Up until 2015, the Himelhoch had a group of shopkeepers who survived for more than 30 years at the location.

During that time, most of the ground floor was leased by Larry and Dianne Mongo, a husband-and-wife team who ran everything from beauty shops to restaurants. The Mongos had also sublet some of the retail space to others for decades. But a rent dispute between the Mongos and the building owners resulted in eviction for all the stores. Since then, the building’s ground-floor retail space, including its Woodward Avenue storefronts, has been empty.