$5 for 3 months. Save 83%.
$5 for 3 months. Save 83%.

City urged to help save historic buildings near arena

Christine Ferretti and Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — Community and preservation advocates are urging the City Council to consider the fate of two historic buildings next to a planned Red Wings arena before approving a rezoning plan for the project.

It remains unclear whether the Ilitch family intends to save or destroy the two empty historic hotels in the footprint of the $450 million arena.

On Thursday, a crowd of residents, activists and representatives of the Ilitches’ company, Olympia Development of Michigan, packed the council chambers for a committee meeting on the issue, but only two council members — Brenda Jones and Andre Spivey — showed up. The predicament left the council without a quorum and unable to ask questions.

The rezoning marks the next phase of the monumental project intended to transform 45-blocks of Detroit into a dense, upscale area. Still unanswered in the epic plan is how many empty buildings may be razed or revived, as well as how to prevent traffic gridlock.

The historic former Park Avenue Hotel and Eddystone Hotel districts became the central topic of concern on Thursday.

“These buildings matter to Detroit,” said Emilie Evans of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network. “We are in the spotlight and the nation is watching to see what we do. It’s really important that we do this right.”

Jones and Spivey spent about 90 minutes listening to remarks from development officials, planning commissioners, residents and activists before adjourning the session.

Members Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, Gabe Leland and Scott Benson had made notifications they would not be in attendance.

“I am a dissatisfied president today,” Jones remarked in reference to the lack of members necessary to respond to presentations.

Doug Kuiper, a spokesman for Olympia, said the development company is hopeful that council will vote on the rezoning next week.

Before leaving City Hall, Kupier touted Olympia’s commitment to transforming the city and providing jobs to residents and Detroit-based companies.

“We think it’s time to move forward to the benefit of Detroiters, the city and the region,” he said.

Renderings show the Park Avenue hotel building, at the southwest corner of Sproat and Park, is right next to the state-of-the art arena. It’s roughly within the five-block area the Ilitches need to be rezoned to make way for the arena.

So far, Olympia has been vague about its plans for the building, which it owns. Last week, Benson proposed an amendment to protect the structure and possibly use it for affordable housing.

The zoning request calls for several small-scale commercial buildings to be demolished and for portions of Park Avenue, Sibley and Clifford streets to be completely cleared.

The changes were previously approved by the city’s planning commission with conditions, but Benson added the amendment because those zoning changes did not include the historic building.

On Friday, a public meeting is being held at Wayne State University by the 12-member advisory group that’s been working with Olympia about the 45-block plan.

The City Council has set a public hearing for 9 a.m. Tuesday. The rezoning could then go before the council at its formal session that begins at 10 a.m.

If the council does not take up the request at next week’s meeting, it may be put off until the council returns from its winter recess in January.