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Detroit officials, developer hail funding to restore Lee Plaza

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

A once grand ballroom with gaping holes in the ceiling, a dining hall covered in graffiti and a wood-paneled smoking room with a missing fireplace. Those are among the spaces the developers of Lee Plaza, a long-vacant Detroit high-rise, say they’ll restore to their original grandeur as part of a senior housing development.

The Roxbury Group and Ethos Development Partners gathered Thursday with city officials at the deteriorated building at 2240 W. Grand Blvd. to celebrate what they call key financing for the $59 million project. The visit comes after Detroit City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution to use $7 million in federal pandemic relief funds for the site.

“Today we stand on the precipice of restoring what is arguably the city’s last forsaken tower,” said David Di Rita, principal of The Roxbury Group.

A photograph of the dining room sits on an easel in the dining room at the Lee Plaza in Detroit on Jan. 20, 2022. The long abandoned apartment building will be turned into 117 units of senior affordable housing.

Di Rita mentioned other notable projects with completed or ongoing redevelopment in the city in the past decade, including the Book Tower, Metropolitan Building, NSO Bell Building, David Stott Building and the Michigan Central Depot. 

“What all of these amazing restorations have in common is that at least one person from beginning to end ... believed in the idea that that project represented and was single minded in his or her determination to see it through,” he said.

Construction is expected to begin next year after the developer secures its remaining funding. The first phase will be complete in 2024, the second phase in 2025.

The complex is expected to included mixed-income housing with 180 units. There will be 117 affordable housing units with rental assistance for seniors and the other units will be market rate. Di Rita said he envisions the first floor of the building, with 4,500 square feet of common space, to include amenities for the public, including retail. 

"I'm increasingly confident and excited that the redeveloped building and what's going on around it will support retail uses because that's the right use for the space," he said. "Food and beverage, public event space." 

Mayor Mike Duggan said a large amount of credit is owed to the support of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Funding for the project includes $24.5 million in equity from 9% and 4% low income housing tax credits through MSHDA, a $10.5 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mortgage, $9.3 million federal historic tax credit and $7 million in city of Detroit American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Mayor Mike Duggan speaks at a press conference detailing the renovations at the Lee Plaza in Detroit on Jan. 20, 2022. The long abandoned apartment building will be turned into 117 units of affordable senior housing.

“We have people in this city who are senior citizens who have raised their families,” Duggan said. “Maybe they want to move out of their house. Maybe the rents in their neighborhoods are growing. They might have Social Security or a small pension that they’re living on. We want those folks who raised their family in this city to be able to be here in quality housing long-term.”

Other funding for the project includes $4.5 million in City of Detroit HOME and Community Development Block Grant funds through HUD, $1.5 million from MSHDA's Neighborhood Stabilization Program and $800,000 in a deferred developer fee. 

The city acquired the property in 2017 from the Detroit Housing Commission for future use as an affordable senior living complex. In February 2019, the council approved the $350,000 sale to Roxbury Group and Ethos Development Partners.

"It took a lot of pieces and a lot of years, but we finally have an agreement that's on track," Duggan said. 

When Lee Plaza was built in 1927, the architecturally significant building housed one of the city’s luxury apartment hotels featuring concierge and room service.

The Detroit Housing Commission operated Lee Plaza as low-income housing from 1968 to 1997, when it was shuttered due to changes in the federal affordable housing program that made operating the aging building cost-prohibitive.

Detroit Councilman Coleman Young II reflected on the numerous illegal activities that may have taken place in the abandoned building over the years, including drug dealing and squatting. 

Councilman Coleman Young II speaks at a press conference detailing the renovations.

"For this to go from that peril to now represent the promise and prosperity of senior affordable living is a blessing," he said. 

Kimberly Rogers, principal of the nearby Detroit Collegiate Preparatory High School at Northwestern, said that as someone with family in the area, she’s well aware of how the building has become an eyesore to . 

“We look forward to a brighter future at Lee Plaza and a safer route to school,” she said.

Roxbury Group and Ethos Development have been involved in numerous projects in Detroit, including the Metropolitan Building and David Whitney Building downtown and the NSO Bell Building on Oakman at the Lodge Freeway.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN