Deal for apartments by Comerica Park close

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

The owner of the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings is close to finalizing a deal to make way for a five-story apartment complex a few steps from Comerica Park.

The structure, whose early plans called for up to 300 apartments, would be built on what are now surface parking lots along Woodward Avenue and Montcalm Street. The proposed building will be a few hundred yards from Comerica Park, across the street from the Fox Theatre and Hockeytown Cafe, and three blocks from the new home ice for the Red Wings. The hockey arena is expected to open in 2017.

The Tigers and Wings are part of the billion-dollar empire controlled by the Ilitch family, whose holdings also include Little Caesars Pizza, entertainment facilities, including the Fox Theatre and Hockeytown Cafe, and other Detroit property.

The parking-lot-turned-apartment house deal is being negotiated between the Ilitches' Olympia Development of Michigan and St. John's Episcopal Church. The historic church on Woodward and the I-75 service drive owns part of the parking lots on Montcalm and Woodward. The church is negotiating the long-term lease of that land to Olympia, said the Rev. Steven J. Kelly, pastor of St. John's.

"They really want to build it and we really want to help," Kelly said in an interview. Since August, the church has been negotiating with Olympia on details of that contract and it the is going to be "finalized, hopefully soon," Kelly said. Olympia currently manages the parking lots on St. John's property.

The Ilitch organization declined comment Tuesday, but the broad outline of the apartment complex was announced in August. Last year, the Ilitches unveiled a $650 million plan to create five new "neighborhoods," expected to span 45 blocks on the northern edge of downtown. The anchor of that new district would be the new $450 million arena for the Red Wings, construction on which is about to begin on Woodward.

The planned residential building is a major goal of "Wildcat Corner,'' one of the the five planned neighborhoods. Wildcat Corner is the working name of the area dominated by Comerica Park and Ford Field, the home field of the Detroit Lions. In August, Olympia said the surface lots between the ballpark and Woodward would make way for 300 apartments and/or lofts.

Other plans for Wildcat Corner include a second parking garage, which is expected to be added alongside the Tigers' garage on Montcalm.

Another building could be built next to Comerica Park across Adams Street. That Adams Street structure could have rooftop bleacher seats, office space and retail and bar/restaurant space on the first floor.

Kelly wrote in his blog this week that a deal was close between Olympia and St. John's. That blog was the first update of the plans since August. The blog post has since been removed.

The five-story apartment building would cut across Montcalm. It appears that it will close off the street from Woodward to Witherell, the street in front of Comerica Park. Ground floor retail is planned for the building. The church also could get a parking garage, enhanced garden space and renovations to its office space, Kelly wrote.

"Construction will most likely not begin before the Tiger's baseball season is over," he wrote.

"Thanks be to God for this marvelous opportunity, for Henry Porter Baldwin's foresight in purchasing this land in 1858, and to the many parishioners who have been involved in bringing this project to this point," Kelly wrote.

Henry Porter Baldwin, the 15th governor of Michigan and a U.S. senator, donated the property where St. John's stands. Back then, it was mainly surrounded by orchards and farms, according to the church's website.

St. John's is one of the oldest religious institutions on Woodward Avenue. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The church plans to stay.

Twitter: LouisAguilar_DN