With arena vote ahead, historic board under scrutiny

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The makeup of the city's Historic District Commission is under scrutiny as it weighs a controversial request to demolish a historic hotel in the footprint of the Red Wings arena.

City Council President Brenda Jones has asked the council's legal staff to clarify procedures for filling vacancies on the seven-member commission after a recent shakeup involving two seats.

One board member resigned because he is moving out of the city; Mayor Mike Duggan asked another to step down for having an expired term. Duggan's office says another two members also are serving on expired terms and eventually will be replaced.

The member whose term expired already has been replaced. The council on Tuesday will consider a replacement for the member who is moving out of Detroit.

Jones' request for legal clarification seeks to ensure that the rules for historic commission appointees are being followed. Commission members are appointed by Duggan and must be confirmed by the council.

The timing is sensitive because the commission is considering a request by Olympia Development of Michigan to tear down the historic Park Avenue hotel as part of the new arena development. The request had been slated to go before the commission last Tuesday, but was pulled by Olympia; a new date for the vote is expected the first week of June. Olympia officials on Monday declined to comment.

If the historic commission denies Olympia's request, the company must seek approval from the state historic commission. If that is rejected, then Olympia would need go to court.

The city council on Tuesday will consider a request to approve the historic commission's newest member. Duggan has recommended that West Village resident Dennis Miriani complete the term of David Cartwright, who stepped down last week after announcing his plans to move out of the city for a new job. Detroit residency is a requirement to serve.

If confirmed Tuesday, Miriani will serve the remainder of the term expiring Feb. 14, 2016.

Duggan's office earlier this month removed another commissioner, Julie Long, who'd had an expired term.

According to the administration, the move was tied to a systematic audit of the membership status of all 76 boards and commissions appointed by the city that began early last year.

Long was appointed to a three-year term in 2010. Her term officially expired more than two years ago. She could not be reached for comment.

There currently are two other members whose terms have expired. Long's appointment, however, had been expired the longest, officials said.

Alexis Wiley, chief of staff for Duggan, said suggestions for candidates to replace Long had been coming in for months.

"In terms of appointments, this one is past due," Wiley said, adding there's no immediate timetable for when any other seats may be switched out. "We're certainly not rushing to fill seats on this board."

New appointee Kenneth Sanders attended his first meeting last week as Long's replacement.

The political science major formerly served Detroit's Public Lighting Department, water department and recreation office.

The lifelong Detroiter grew up in the Boston Edison neighborhood and now resides in the historic University District. He sits on the neighborhood association board and has been recognized for the historic renovation of his own home, the mayor's office noted.

Sanders says he's spent his life living and working in Detroit. His appointment was unanimously approved by the council.

"I have a vested interest in the city," he told The Detroit News. "I'm from the city, grew up in the city and worked for the city my whole life."

The council gave the green light last month on a long-delayed and debated rezoning request from Olympia to clear the way for construction of the new arena and 45-block entertainment district.

Among its terms, an agreement outlining the fate of two historic hotels nearby. The plan calls for the Park Avenue to be razed and the neighboring Eddystone Hotel to be salvaged and converted for commercial and residential use.

Olympia officials contend that the 90-year-old hotel must be razed because it is so close to the proposed arena that it raises security concerns. But the developer will not be able to tear down the hotel until all approvals to redevelop the Eddystone are secured, according to the agreement.

Sanders declined to discuss his position on the Park Avenue demolition, saying only: "I have to converse with my other commissioners."