Saturday Night Building appears destined for demolition despite cries to save it

Detroit — A demolition permit could be issued as early as this week to raze the historic Saturday Night Building despite pleas from the public to spare the building.

Several people urged the City Council during its meeting on Tuesday to reconsider its 7-1 vote last week defeating an interim historic district designation that would have prevented a private owner from tearing down 550 W. Fort for a parking lot.

However, because no city council member submitted a request by a Monday afternoon deadline for a reconsideration vote, the governing body could not vote again on the matter.

The Saturday Night building  is at 550 W. Fort Street in Detroit.

“Procedurally, that cannot happen,” City Councilman Scott Benson said during Tuesday's meeting.

The building had been fated for demolition since before the 2008 recession when owner Emmett Moten Jr. told the city he intended to tear it down to provide parking for the planned condominiums in the adjacent Fort Shelby building. Moten also said previously the recession stalled the demolition.

In December, Moten’s MCP Development applied for and was granted a demolition permit, according to the city. This sparked concern among preservation advocates decrying the demolition of the structure that was once home to the Detroit Saturday Night newspaper from 1914 to 1929.

More:Historic downtown Detroit building likely to be razed

At the city’s request, MCP held up its plans as the city administration addressed its concerns about another parking lot.

Discussions with the city’s planning department included saving the front third of the building, however, according to the city, the plan would cost an additional $3 million and still result in a parking shortage. The city’s law department recommended demolition.

A demolition permit could be issued within the next couple days, city officials said Tuesday.

Moten could not be immediately reached for comment. 

Maria Urquidi of Detroit colors in a sign at a protest Tuesday in front of the Saturday Night Building.

The properties for the Fort Shelby project were purchased through loans from the General Retirement Systems and the City of Detroit. To date, the entire loan balances are due with the GRS loan, extended numerous times, due in November. In a memo to the city council, the law department said the parking issue has impacted condominium sales and repayment of the loan.

Arthur Jemison, the city of Detroit's group executive for Planning, Housing and Development, said previously the city worked with Smith Group Architects and Moten to evaluate preservation options at the 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," Jemison said last week. 

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

Earlier Tuesday, a small group gathered in front of the building to protest plans to demolish the building.

Protestors hung signs on the front of the building that read “Save Detroit history,” “No new parking,” and “No more surface lots.”

“It’s a very short-sighted move to let this building go for 12 parking spaces,” said Francis Grunow, 45, of Detroit, co-founder of the group, Detroiters for Parking Reform. “You don’t go to great cities because of surfacing parking. You go because there are active buildings with residences and schools and cafes and churches and those kinds of things.”

He said he understands the Detroit Pension Fund is an investor in the condos and that’s why the city council appears to be willing to let the building be razed.

“We believe a much better long-term solution and a better outcome for the fund is to keep this a taxable building for 20, 30, 50 years instead of surface parking.”

Grunow said the group isn’t against real estate development and progress but wants it to be done thoughtfully.

“We want us to be smarter about how we do development in Detroit,” he said.

Mark Hall, 23, of Detroit, another of the group’s co-founders, said he opposes the plan because there’s already a lot of parking near the Saturday Night Building.

“I think there are much better options for this building, considering there are already plenty of parking lots around the building and a parking garage across the street,” he said.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN