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Rally planned Thursday to prevent demolition near new arena

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
The Hotel Ansonia is a four-story brick structure built in 1914. It closed in 2006 and was bought by Ilitch Holdings Inc. for Olympia Development in 2016.

Detroit — Tensions rose between preservationists and work crews that were preparing two abandoned buildings on Cass Avenue for demolition this week.

Owners of Building Hugger, a historic window restoration company, plan a rally and "group hug" at Cass Avenue and Henry Street on Thursday where the aging Hotel Ansonia and Atlanta Apartments sit in the footprint of the new sports arena district, where the Red Wings and Pistons will play. 

On June 20, the Detroit City Council voted to approve an interim historic designation for the Hotel Ansonia and Atlanta Apartments, allowing the Historic Designation Advisory Board to begin a study, according to Preservation Detroit. While the study is underway, any major changes to the buildings, including demolition, must be approved by the Detroit Historic District Commission.

Building Hugger owner Amy Swift said the demolitions were not permitted while the historic designation was under consideration.

"I drive by it every day and the last few days, there have been workers there without a permit," said Swift. "We have been aware of the historic building concerns in the arena district for some time now and tomorrow will be a big group hug wrapping as far around the block as we can to show that we have eyes on the community."

Swift, an active preservationist, recorded a few of her visits this week along Cass and Henry as she spoke with workers who said they were planning the buildings for demolition. She uploaded her videos to Facebook

The Hotel Ansonia is a four-story brick structure built in 1914. It closed in 2006 and was bought by Ilitch Holdings Inc. for Olympia Development in 2016. The Atlanta Apartments was built in 1915.

A petition on with 1,400 signatures uploaded by Preservation Detroit asks signers to support preserving the old buildings. The petition also asks the City Council to prevent any other buildings from being demolished until Olympia Development fulfills its commitment to rehabilitate 15 historic buildings in the area. 

Olympia Development made the commitment after the Historic District Commission granted a Certificate of Approval for the demolition of the Park Avenue Hotel, which fell on July 11, 2015

The rally and group hug is planned for noon until 1 p.m. Thursday outside of the Hotel Ansonia at 2447 Cass, Detroit. Jennifer Reinhardt from Michigan Historic Preservation Network will be speaking is planned to speak with Swift at the event. 

Also present at the June 20 City Council meeting was John Lauve of Holly, who is petitioning to overturn the City Council-approved ordinance authorizing $34.5 million in public funding for the Piston's move downtown. Lauve recently filed 8,000 signatures to the Department of Elections Lauve said he's also fighting for many vacant buildings owned by the Ilitch empire.

"Officials need to stop blocking this with ridiculous claims," Lauve said. "These are historic buildings they want to tear down to turn into parking lots for their games."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_