Keep hotels out of arena plan
The fate of two historic Cass Corridor buildings is the subject of a Detroit City Council session this afternoon. It will be a win for the city if productive uses can be found for the Eddystone and Park Avenue hotels. But that mission should not be allowed to tie up the Red Wings arena project.
The hotels, abandoned for more than a decade, are just outside the official footprint of the arena district. Council is being asked by preservationists to expand the boundaries to include them, with the hope that doing so will force their rehabilitation.
Some council members are eager to see the structures rehabbed to provide "affordable" housing in the neighborhood.
That may be a fine use for the hotels, which date to 1924. But market forces should drive their fate. Depending on the level of deterioration and the cost of renovation, using them for low-rent housing may not provide the necessary return to interest investors.
If the city deems inexpensive housing is an essential need for the new development, it should study how to attract grants to lower the cost of the conversion.
Meanwhile, the Ilitch family, which owns the Red Wings and is doing the $650 million project, has promised to study uses for the hotels, and to fix them up if it makes sense, or tear them down if it doesn't.
That's a reasonable approach. The buildings should not be allowed to stand vacant and rotting next to an emerging new commercial district that will include the arena as well as new housing units, stores and offices.
Nor should they be forced into the district. Mandating they be used for affordable housing will raise the cost of the project, and perhaps slow down its completion.
Dubbed The District Detroit, the three-year build-out will create thousands of jobs and transform an area of Detroit that has been declining for 60 years.
The Ilitches have already committed to directing 51 percent of the new jobs created by the arena to Detroiters, as well as 30 percent of the construction contracts.
The council's concern about affordable housing in the downtown area is well-placed, but it should be part of a broader, more comprehensive policy discussion.
Affordable housing should not be the Ilitches' problem to solve alone. Their plan includes housing at a variety of rent levels, and is designed to meet current demand. But subsidized housing is generally a function of municipal government.
Before any decisions can be made about the Eddystone and Park Avenue — both are on the national historic register — their condition and potential must be assessed. Before shoving them into the arena district, all potential uses must be explored, and determinations made about whether they fit the overall plan.
This project will be a big deal for Detroit. Already, the NCAA has committed to use the new arena as part of its 2018 March Madness college basketball tournament.
The zoning requests before council mean jobs and investment for Detroit. They shouldn't be held up in the name of two ancient hotels that may or may not have a second life.