Army Corps extends Line 5 tunnel review, delaying project at least 18 months

$8M sale worries tenants near Little Caesars Arena

Louis Aguilar

Three Cass Corridor apartment buildings near Little Caesars Arena are part of an $8.1 million sale involving a mysterious buyer that has low-income residents of the apartments wondering if they will be pushed out of the homes as the project evolves, The Detroit News has learned.

The buildings are one block west of the $862.9 million sports and entertainment complex opening in less than three weeks. For several years now, the arena complex has sparked multimillion-dollar sales of property in a neighborhood that’s been blighted for decades.

The buildings, on the 400 block of Henry, contain about 95 units and were sold in a single $8.1 million deal last October to a buyer that’s taken steps to conceal its identity in public records. Another empty building on the block was also part of the sale. The properties were owned by entities linked to local developer Peter Mercier.

About four years ago, an attempt to sell the buildings ran into a community backlash when residents were told they had 30 days to leave. The deal was squashed and the potential buyer was never identified. At that time, a series of land sales were already underway amid rumors the new arena would be built somewhere nearby.

Those rumors came true and the arena is scheduled to open in less than three weeks. And in its wake, property has been selling at seven-digit figures.

“We’ve been living on eggshells,” said Lomax LaGrand, a resident in Bretton Hall, one of the apartment buildings sold. “We know there are new owners, but we don’t know who they are, or if one day they just going to tell us you all got to go.”

LaGrand works on the maintenance staff in one of the new upscale hotels downtown. Another Bretton Hall resident, Frederick Weems, is a dishwasher at new trendy restaurant downtown. About 80 percent of the residents in the three apartment buildings have jobs, said Dennis Martinez, a building manager.

The residents in the three apartment buildings — the others are the Berwin and Claridge — rent the units on a month-by-month basis. Rents are inexpensive, in the $300 and $400 range, according to several tenants.

“These kind of rents are getting harder and harder to find close to downtown,” Weems said. “The whole point of living here is because you got public transportation to get you downtown — to my job — quickly.”

The buyer of the properties is an entity called Cass Village Apartments LLC. An Ann Arbor-based registered agent is listed as the sole representative for the company, according to public records, and no phone number is provided. A registered agent is a third party authorized by a business to receive legal notices and correspondences on behalf of the firm.

The Little Caesars Arena complex will be home to the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons. The facility also is expected to become the top concert venue in the area. Developers have said the arena is expected to be the spark of 50 blocks of new development around the arena, in a plan called the District Detroit.

To accumulate the land needed to build the arena and create thriving neighborhoods around it, entities linked to the billionaire owners of the Red Wings, Ilitch Holdings, spent nearly $50 million and years secretly buying at least 56 properties from dozens of private owners, public records show.

The nearby Henry Street block is in the midst of complete change. Henry is the north boundary of the block bounded by Cass on the east, the West Fisher Freeway service drive to the south and Second to the west. Half the block has become surface parking lots owned by Olympia Development, another unit of Ilitch Holdings. The buildings on the corner of Henry and Cass have been the focus of a battle between preservationists and the Ilitches, who own the empty properties.

The Ilitches aim to demolish the structures, but the preservationists have won from city officials a temporary reprieve.

“All this change really gets you thinking,” said Martinez, the Bretton Hall manager. “Who knows what can happen to these apartments?”

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Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN