Council delays Cass Henry historic district decision
The fate of a single block of buildings in the shadow of Little Caesars Arena remains in limbo after the Detroit City Council postponed a decision on creating a historic district Tuesday.
Some council members said they wanted needed more information about the Ilitch family’s plans for affordable housing and the conditions of the buildings. Others wanted to move forward with designating a Cass Henry Historic District.
The Ilitch family’s Olympia Entertainment has been silent on plans for affordable housing.
“We have been here for over a year with this very subject …” said Councilman Scott Benson. “We have to drop the nuclear option to get Olympia to come to the table to have a discussion about the future of these properties. They’ve had over a year, and to this point have yet to reach out to (Housing and Revitalization Department) to discuss what their commitment is on these properties.”
The Ilitch’s Olympia Development owns at least three of the brick buildings one block from the $863 million Little Caesars Arena, which opened last fall. Olympia sought a permit to demolish the buildings, but that effort was halted last year when the city temporarily gave the area historical designation. Six apartment buildings and a commercial structure on the block were built in the early 20th century.
Representatives from Olympia Development and Ilitch Holdings were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
The block proposed for the designation for the historic district is between Cass and Second, and the Fisher Freeway service drive and Henry. Properties include427 Henry (The Henry), 439 Henry (Bretton Hall), 459 Henry (Claridge Apartments), 489 Henry (Berwin Apartments), 447 Henry (William B. Ralston Garage), 2447 Cass (Grande Apartments/Hotel Ansonia) and 2467 Cass (Atlanta Apartments).
Half of the block is surface parking lots owned by Olympia Development. The company has sought to demolish the former Hotel Ansonia, the former Atlanta Apartments and the former Henry Apartments.
A historic district could bring challenges for demolition plans. It also creates specific guidelines for renovations.
The council's Benson said that the city has told Olympia Development to talk with the Housing and Revitalization Department to discuss if the city would be able to support an affordable housing plan with its own investment.
“To this day I don’t believe there has been any meaningful outreach to HRD or to the group executive to that effect,” Benson. “What we have is over a year of an opportunity, we’ve heard from Olympia (is) we don’t want the historical designation. Well, what is your commitment to the city of Detroit to the citizens for affordable housing and what we have received in return is silence, and that is unacceptable.”
Some council members said Tuesday that they were not ready to vote on the issue because they still had lingering questions, such as the condition of the buildings.
“I would like to have the Ilitch arena development committee come before us and explain to us as far as what commitments they are going to do to bring affordable housing,” said Councilman Roy McCalister.
Of the active apartments, there are 202 units with 75 to 100 units occupied, said Raquel Castaneda-Lopez.
Tenants pay $400 to $500 a month in rent, Benson said. Some of those residents were relocated from the Claridge Apartments when it closed after an unidentified buyer bought as part of a $8.1 million deal.
“This is not high end,” Benson said. “This is not luxury by any means, but they are able to live there and live in the area. Many have been there for decades.”
The historic district would address three key quality-of-life issues identified by the Neighborhood Advisory Committee for the arena district, said its chair Francis Grunow. Those are affordable housing, parking and historic preservation.
“Cass Henry is prime for walkability too …” Grunow said. “Built as small efficiency apartments, they lend themselves to occupancy at least in some part by workers —Detroit’s janitors and service workers who fight for a living wage who live close to jobs and can easily walk to work.”
Nattiel Spearman, a resident of Bretton Hall, told the council that he wants to stay in his home.
“I would like to see this building stay up and going,” he said. “I don’t know where I would go. This building (brought) low-income housing for me to live. I’m just appreciate the support … to help this building stay up.”
Eric Kehoe, president of Preservation Detroit, said creating the district can help preserve affordable housing, which contributes to Cass Corridor's neighborhood character.
“The residents want to remain in their homes,” he said. “We hope council will vote to protect these buildings.”