Judge dismisses lawsuit seeking structure’s demolition

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — The future of a controversial city-owned parking structure appears unclear after an Oakland circuit judge dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday in which Pontiac sought to condemn and demolish the facility.

Legal issues regarding the 34-year-old, city-owned Phoenix Center have been percolating for more than two years as city officials and an emergency manager appointed by the governor sought ways to pull the cash-strapped city out of its red ink.

On Tuesday, Judge Michael Warren ruled the city failed to make a good faith offer to Ottawa Towers for easement rights needed to tear down the structure. Tenants in the two adjacent buildings park in the Phoenix Center and access their buildings through its parking deck.

The city offered Ottawa Towers $183,440 for the easement rights, but in a seven-page opinion, Warren ruled it “omitted any compensation for a lien held by Ottawa Towers in connection with the deck.”

Ottawa Towers sued to stop the condemnation and demanded $9 million in damages should the parking structure be torn down. The structure was closed to the public in 2012 after an engineering study determined structural problems posed potential public safety issues that would require $8.1 million to repair — funds the city does not have to spend. Former emergency manager Louis Schimmel had noted it cost the city $175,000 a year just to maintain the structure.

Ottawa Towers subsequently disputed the findings, sued to stop demolition and alleged the study itself was flawed and designed to present the aging structure in the worst possible light so it could be bulldozed. Over the past two years, Ottawa Towers did repairs and maintained a portion of the 1,600-space structure.

It is unclear what Warren’s decision means for the future of the parking structure but some nearby property owners in the city’s downtown business district expressed relief at the ruling.

Blair McGowan, operator of the nearby Crofoot nightclub, has been an outspoken opponent of the structure’s demolition and said it provides needed parking for downtown businesses to prosper and survive.

When built in 1980, the Phoenix Center and its seldom used amphitheater were viewed as key components in the city’s business district revival.

Critics of the parking structure say tearing down the building would permit the opening of Saginaw Street on the district’s south end and would bring more motorists to restaurants and businesses. The majority of traffic skirts the city on the Wide Track loop created decades ago.