$7M in federal pandemic funds OK'd to renovate Detroit's historic Lee Plaza

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

A long-vacant former city jewel is slated for renewal with the Detroit City Council's approval on Tuesday of a resolution to use $7 million in federal pandemic relief funds for the Lee Plaza in the city’s northwest side.

The 15-story high-rise complex is slated to be a mixed-income housing, with a total of 180 units, including 117 affordable housing units with rental assistance for seniors, Donald Rencher, the city's group executive of housing, planning and development, told the council. 

The project seeks to renovate the historic building, which was constructed in 1927, and the acre of vacant adjacent land sitting at 2240 and 2250 W. Grand Blvd.

Scrappers stole all the verdigris copper plates that used to cover the roof at Lee Plaza.

The property has been vacant since 1997 and fallen into disrepair. When it was built in 1928, the architecturally significant building housed one of the city's luxury apartment hotels featuring concierge and room service.

The city acquired the property in 2017 from the Detroit Housing Commission for the purpose of constructing an affordable senior living complex, and the council approved the sale to developers in February 2019.

Last year, the council approved Mayor Mike Duggan’s plan for $826 million in American Rescue Plan Funds to address intergenerational poverty in the city over eight categories. He dubbed the proposal the “Detroit Future Fund.”

The council spent 30 minutes discussing the issue before approving the allocation for the funding, questioning community benefits agreements and what the qualifications would be for seniors.

The vacant, 15-story Lee Plaza Apartments at 2240 W. Grand Boulevard is slated for mixed-income housing, with a total of 180 units, including 117 affordable housing units with rental assistance for seniors.

“I do support the project,” council President Mary Sheffield said. “I think we’re in dire need for senior housing throughout this entire city. As someone who is constantly in and out of that area, I know the community would love to see this building revitalized.”

The first phase of the project is estimated at nearly $60 million. The $7 million would be allocated toward the first phase, the council said.

To use the ARPA funding, the developers must restore the building to its original glory and will be seeking a historic tax credit to do so, Rencher said.

The project is led by Detroit-based developers, Roxbury Group and Ethos Development Partners. It will include housing for seniors and rental assistance for those who make under the city’s average median income, which is $28,000 or less annually. It will also receive a tax credit for low-income housing. 

“Between Ethos and the Roxbury group, we have combined probably as much historic preservation experience in the city as much as any development group currently operating, and we’re very excited about this aspect of the project,” David Di Rita, principal of the Roxbury Group, told the council.

Fusco, Shaffer & Pappas are the architects and planners for the project.

The vacant 15-story Lee Plaza Apartments, at 2240 West Grand Boulevard, has been shuttered since 1997.

He added that the funding is needed because the project is "more challenging due to the advance detreated state of the building being open to the elements."

"This is the last great, vacant high-rise in the city of Detroit and we’re very excited to bring it back to its original appearance," he said.

Newly elected councilmember Angela Whitfield Calloway argued for more locally based contractors, to which Rencher said, “We have two developers who are locally based and potential contractor is also Detroit-based. Section 3 has to be followed for these developments that are using these HUD dollars.”

City officials had previously eyed the property for redevelopment.

The vacant, 15-story residential hotel had been targeted for a $200 million renovation project, but the proposal fell apart in 2016 after the prospective buyer was unable to secure financing, officials said.

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.