Denise Ilitch recuses herself from talks to bring UM center to District Detroit

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Denice Ilitch, a member of the University of Michigan Board of Regents, said Friday she would recuse herself from discussions involving her family's business about the university and real estate billionaire Stephen Ross possibly building an innovation center in the District Detroit.

Ilitch also said she would not vote on any matter involving the project that comes before UM's governing board.

Denise Ilitch

Ross is reportedly in talks with Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, about building the Detroit Center for Innovation within the Ilitch-owned district near the Fox Theatre.

Ilitch said she learned on July 2 from someone outside of the university that it was in development discussions with her family’s business.

“Amid the complete surprise, I immediately informed my colleagues on the Board of the situation,” Ilitch wrote in a statement Friday. “Disappointingly, they had also been unaware. That day, I informed my colleagues on the Board, as well as the President, that I would remove myself from this situation, as it poses an inherent conflict.”

Ilitch, a regent since 2009, is a former president of Ilitch Holdings, a privately held company that manages Little Caesar Enterprises, Olympia Entertainment, the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers. Ilitch said she is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.

Earlier this week, Ross and Dan Gilbert's Bedrock announced that the center, to be anchored by UM, would not be built on the 14-acre Gratiot site where the failed, half-built Wayne County jail once stood. 

Ross said his Related Companies would seek a different location in the city. It is unclear what the size and scope of the project will be in the new location. Ross said Wednesday that the project needed “more space to ensure that we deliver” than what was available at the Gilbert-owned site.

District Detroit is composed of Ilitch-owned properties around Little Caesars Arena, which the family also owns. 

If the project comes to fruition within District Detroit, it could be within walking distance of a multifamily residential or mixed-use development Ross has planned at Charlotte Street and Third Avenue.

The Detroit City Council agreed June 29 to the sale of five city-owned parcels to Third and Charlotte Limited Dividend Housing Association LLC for $500,000. The entity is linked to two Related Companies executives.

That development will be a multifamily residential or mixed-use development with 75 rental units, tenant common areas and surface parking, according to a letter from the city's Planning and Development Department to the council last month.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN