Ilitch group plans on renovating buildings near Little Caesars Arena

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — A partnership that could potentially renovate seven historic buildings near Little Caesars Arena was announced Tuesday by the Ilitch family's Olympia Development of Michigan, the City of Detroit and Lansing-based Cinnaire Solutions.

Officials say the redevelopment plan would create new affordable rental housing in the area bounded by Henry Street, Cass, Second Avenue and the Interstate 75 Service Drive. The project will also include units priced at market rate, officials said.

An artist rendering of the Henry Street proposal.

“We are optimistic and excited for Detroit’s future and are planning community-minded development that will help to meet the city’s housing needs while bringing new and vibrant opportunities to The District Detroit,” Keith Bradford, Vice President of Olympia Development of Michigan said in a statement Tuesday.

The company says it plans to pursue public support for the project.

According to the city, Olympia Development has applied for gap funding, which includes HOME Funds and Community Development Block Grant funds. It plans to apply in February for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, a federal program that offsets a developer’s tax liability. It will go before the Detroit Historic District Commission with its plans on Dec. 9, as the development sits within the Cass Henry Historic District established in 2018.

The announcement comes more than a year after the Ilitch organization began hiring a team tasked with figuring out how to revive dozens of blocks the company owns around the arena. The Ilitch group has faced criticism for relying on tax subsidies, missing deadlines and holding on to blocks of empty land within its 50-block District Detroit.

Francis Grunow, chairman of the Neighborhood Advisory Committee established for the arena project, said he's skeptical of the plans coming to fruition. He hopes they do, though.

"We advocated this strategy five years ago when the Ilitches were actively pressuring City Council members to tear the buildings down and displace longtime residents," he said. "We've had the Ilitch family saying stuff for 30 years. That said, Cinnaire is a credible player in this space. I sincerely hope they succeed in partnering with the Ilitches where so many others have failed.

"Moreover, if the Ilitches will be so bold to ask for more public assistance for this project, I would call on the Mayor and council to be much, much stronger about incorporating broader, deeper requirements, including timelines and clawbacks. Detroiters haven’t realized any dividends for their investments with the Ilitches."

Olympia officials say progress is underway on historic renovations including the former Women’s City Club, the former Eddystone hotel and the former United Artists Building with Bagley Development Group. Projects completed since the opening of the arena in 2017 include the Mike Ilitch School of Business and the Little Caesars headquarters campus expansion. 

The 1920s-era historic apartment buildings owned by the Ilitch organization include Bretton Hall at 439 Henry and Berwin Apartments at 489 Henry.

No timeline has been given for the proposed housing development efforts. Bradford was unavailable for further comment.

The project would include retaining rent protections for current residents, "at or very near their current rental rates," according to the announcement. 

Apartment residents would be temporarily relocated on the same block during construction. It would be an approach similar to one taken by Broder & Sachse two years ago when residents returned to a renovated Hamilton Midtown, a historic apartment building at 40 Davenport.

“This partnership embodies what we are looking for from our community-minded developers because it would preserve the affordable rent levels for all current tenants in newly renovated buildings,” said Donald Rencher, director of Housing and Revitalization for the City of Detroit. 

Cinnaire Solutions, a community development financial institution, said it has invested more than $500 million in revitalizing the city in nearly 30 years. Its recent Detroit developments include The Anchor at Mariner’s Inn, RiverCrest, Transfiguration School and La Joya Gardens.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN