Detroit seeks to develop historic apartment buildings

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — For decades, two historic buildings in the city have sat abandoned among many others as symbols of the city’s decline.

The city hopes to change that as it requests redevelopment proposals for the historic Lee Plaza on West Grand Boulevard and Woodland Apartments on Woodland Street. Combined, the developments would bring a total of 250 mixed-income units to the city.

“This redevelopment is part of our strategy to grow the city in a way that is equitable and includes everyone,” said Arthur Jemison, the city’s director of housing and revitalization, in a statement Monday. “Our goal here is to attract new residents with newly renovated apartments that include affordable rents and retain long-time residents in the area by supporting projects that will spur additional investment and create strong anchors in the neighborhoods.”

The city’s request comes after a $1.7 million transaction earlier this year with the Detroit Housing Commission that included the transfer of the apartment buildings to the Detroit Building Authority.

The transfer benefits the housing commission because it removes an unoccupied property from its books and increases its access to additional capital, rental assistance, government vouchers, Jemison said.

“Us getting the housing commission to be healthy is a huge priority,” he said.

A previous developer, Detroit native Craig Sasser, announced in 2015 a $200 million plan to develop Lee Plaza, but that deal never materialized.

At least five or six local and national developers have expressed interest in the property prior to the city announcing it would take bids, Jemison said.

According to the city, developers interested in renovating Lee Plaza or the Woodland Apartments should be prepared to set aside more than 20 percent of each building’s units for individuals making $38,000 a year or less.

The Lee Plaza has been vacant since 1997. When it was built in 1928, the architecturally significant building housed one of the city’s luxury apartment hotels featuring concierge and room service. It’s in the NW-Goldberg neighborhood, near New Center. The city is asking $295,000 for the building and surrounding land.

The Woodland Apartments was built in 1923 on Woodland Street, just east of Woodward and north of the Boston Edison neighborhood. It’s also been vacant since the 1990s. Interested developers can either renovate the building or demolish it and redevelop the site, city officials said.

“We’ve seen progress in the areas around both Lee Plaza and Woodland Apartments,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement. “While these are challenging projects, these buildings can become major anchors in these communities.”

The city expects the redevelopment of Lee Plaza to take between two and five years while the Woodland Apartments could take between one to three years.

Both projects could be eligible for low-income housing tax credits, and the city is considering investment in both properties with federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program and community development block grant funds.

Lee Plaza also qualifies for federal historic tax credits because the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN