Historic downtown Detroit building likely to be razed

Evan James Carter
The Detroit News

Detroit — More than a decade after the owner originally planned to raze it to create parking for condominiums in the Fort Shelby building, the historic Saturday Night Building will likely be coming down, city officials said.

A resolution by Councilman James Tate to create a Historic Designation Advisory Board in connection with a study for a proposed historic district at 550 West Fort St., the site of the Saturday Night Building, was defeated at Tuesday's city council meeting.

According to Detroit deputy corporate counsel Charles Raimi, without the city council passing the interim historic district designation, the city does not have legal recourse to prevent a private owner from tearing down a building as long as the demolition is properly executed.

The Saturday Night building on 550 W. Fort Street in Detroit on Thursday, October 3, 2019.
 Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

Just before the 2008 recession, Emmett Moten planned to demolish the Saturday Night Building to prepare parking spaces for planned condominiums in the Fort Shelby building, said Detroit chief of services and infrastructure Arthur Jemison.

"The city worked with Smith Group Architects and Emmett Moten to evaluate preservation options at this site. We also evaluated other monetary and alternative location options to compensate the General Retirement System and other investors who are counting on the spaces to make returns for their constituents," he said.

It was going to take $2 million to $3 million to maintain the building, Jemison said.

The Saturday Night building on 550 W. Fort Street in Detroit on Thursday, October 3, 2019.
 Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

"If we could marshal that kind of financial support, we would recommend investing it in other critical preservation targets," Jemison said.

The Detroit Saturday Night, a newspaper published in the city from 1907 to 1939, used the building as its headquarters until 1929, according to Curbed Detroit.

The group Detroiters for Parking Reform, which seeks to change Detroit's current parking policies, responded to the city council's decision in a tweet Wednesday, saying, "Instead of new residents and businesses in downtown Detroit, we get 12 parking spaces."

Francis Grunow, a member of Detroiters for Parking Reform, questioned in an email why the building site is needed for parking.

"When office occupancy Downtown is over 90% and similarly sized buildings are being offered for $10 million, why hasn't Mr. Moten explored selling to cover debt and make condo owners whole?" Grunow said. "How do we know Mr. Moten explored all options for securing alternate parking? There are thousands of spaces nearby."

Moten did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Thursday night.

Mark Hicks contributed.


Twitter: @EvanJamesCarter