Cass Park Historic District finally approved

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

The months-long goal to create a historic district around the future Red Wings arena in Cass Corridor was achieved Tuesday, following intense lobbying to change the district’s borders by the billionaire owners of the Wings as well as a nearby homeless shelter.

Looking through the window of the older of two buildings that make up Mariners Inn, overlooking the newer building and construction of the new Red Wings arena. Mariners Inn is a 24 hour, residential, substance abuse treatment facility for adult, homeless men of southeastern Michigan

Both lobbying efforts worked.

A city historic district usually doesn’t generate months of debate. But this battle reflects the larger anxiety going on in Cass Corridor as it changes from one of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods to one that’s increasingly upscale.

The Cass Park Historic District was approved by the City Council by an 8-0 vote.

The final boundaries of the district had been changed earlier to exclude two buildings controlled by entities linked to Wings owner Mike Ilitch.

And on Tuesday, council quickly amended the boundaries again — this time to exclude the main facility of the Mariners Inn at 445 Ledyard. The facility is a shelter for homeless men, as well as a substance abuse treatment clinic. Run by the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, it has operated in the Cass Corridor since 1955.

The homeless shelter is across the street from the new $627 million Red Wings arena, slated to open next year.

Both entities were determined to change the boundaries because it is tougher in a historic district to gain permission to tear down buildings or significantly change their looks.

If the neighborhood becomes an upscale residential and entertainment district, shelter officials contend it may not be the best location for the population they serve. They are contemplating selling the property, officials said, but that decision isn’t imminent. Just as importantly, being kept out of the historic district means the diocese can keep its options open as the building steadily rises in value, they said.

“Today’s decision shows a recognition for the ongoing work going on at the Mariners Inn,” Episcopal Bishop of Michigan Walter Gibbs Jr. said in a written statement.

All around the Mariners Inn, empty buildings have been bought over the past few years and new restaurants are opening a few blocks away. Several buildings near the homeless shelter are now controlled by the Ilitch family. Mike Ilitch owns the Red Wings and Detroit Tigers. His wife, Marian, owns the nearby MotorCity Casino-Hotel. Their Olympia Development of Michigan controls numerous properties in the greater downtown area.

The Ilitches have big plans to transform 45 blocks around the arena district with new housing, office and retail. More than $1 billion in investment already has been committed and more is coming. One block away is the future Wayne State University Mike Ilitch School of Business, which will be built at Woodward and Temple.

To help preserve the historical nature of many of the empty buildings around the new arena, the city began the process of creating the Cass Park Historic District last year. The jigsaw puzzle-shaped area will help protect about 18 buildings – some occupied, some not – clustered around Temple Street and Cass Park.

Olympia always wanted three empty buildings that it owns to be excluded from the proposed district. The city resisted for months. A compromise was finally reached: Two of the buildings will not be included in the district. Those buildings are the former Wil-Mar garage at 131 Temple and the former William E. Cole apartments at 2753 Park.

The third building is the former Alhambra Apartments at 100-112 Temple, which is inside the boundaries of the new historic district. Olympia has said it’s one of at least two empty buildings it controls that it is looking to redevelop in the district.

But that compromise with Olympia sparked protest from the Mariners Inn. The original district included the entire facility. The compromise meant the new border of the historic district would have run through the middle of the homeless shelter. That border was changed Tuesday to exclude the entire building.

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