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Ilitches set affordable housing goal in epic plans

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Ilitch organization will tell a City Council committee Thursday that one out of every five new residential units built in their planned $650 million, 45-block district north of downtown will be reserved for affordable housing residents.

A rendering for one of the new residential buildings will also be unveiled: the renovated former Eddystone Hotel, according to information provided by Ilitch officials. It's a long vacant, 13-story building on the edge of the future home ice of the Detroit Red Wings. The former hotel is one of two empty historical buildings next to the arena site.

The other vacant building, the 90-year-old former Park Avenue Hotel, must be demolished, Ilitch officials confirmed Wednesday.

That building, also known as the former Harbor Light, needs to be razed because it is in a high-security zone of the proposed arena. In its place, an underground loading dock should be built to ensure the multipurpose venue can accommodate major concerts and other events.

"Restoring the Eddystone Hotel helps preserve an important piece of Detroit's rich architectural history, while creating much needed job opportunities and affordable housing for Detroiters," said Rod Blake, director of development for Olympia Development of Michigan, the development arm of the Ilitch organization.

Those are among the details that will be publicly revealed by Olympia officials when they appear before a council committee at 10 a.m. Olympia seeks a zoning change from council so construction can begin on the $450 million arena. The multi-purpose venue is expected to open summer 2017.

Other details expected to be addressed are where thousands of arena patrons will park and how traffic will impact the Cass Corridor neighborhood.

The zoning change was initially sought late last year but several council members wanted modifications to Olympia's original plan.

Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez wanted Olympia to halve the number of parking spaces around the arena. Olympia proposed 1,200 and Castaneda-Lopez suggested 600 parking spaces. Other council members wanted more public gathering spaces and wanted the Park Avenue Hotel saved.

The zoning request centers on four blocks between Woodward and Cass that includes the arena, two above-ground parking garages and mixed-use space. Those four blocks are just one of five new neighborhoods expected to be created that will cover 45 blocks and bring in at least $650 million in investment and hundreds of new residents, retailers and offices.

The 20 percent affordable housing goal that Olympia will propose Thursday will apply to the entire 45-block zone. It's not clear how many new units are planned.

The overall district plan calls for housing to the west and south of the arena, creating new mixed use neighborhoods around Comerica Park and the Fox Theatre. Olympia has said earlier it will build 300 apartments in two buildings on what are now surface parking lots between Comerica Park and Woodward.

A glass enclosed walkway will link the arena with residences and shops.

In the former Eddystone, 100 residential units are planned. The Eddystone and Park Avenue are remnants of Detroit's 1920s boom when there was a rush to build hotels to meet the needs of the flourishing city, according to documents from the city of Detroit's Historic Designation Advisory Board. Both buildings were designed by Louis Kamper, who created many of the city's leading hotels and other downtown landmarks.

The 785,000-square-foot, 20,000-seat arena is slated to be ready for the Red Wings' season opener in 2017. The professional hockey team is owned by Mike Ilitch, whose Olympia Development is part of the Ilitch family's billion-dollar collection of businesses that includes Little Caesars Pizza, the Fox Theatre and Detroit Tigers.

The Ilitch organization has vowed to speed up the other $200 million in mixed-use development so much of it can be complete around the time the arena opens.

Olympia is aiming for a mix of well-known national retailers and local favorites. But what kind of shops, restaurants and offices will set up in new neighborhoods is one of many things unknown. Still, the Ilitches continue to say that much of their plan can be finished in five years.