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Architecture > News Hits

Demolition daze

 

Published 8/18/2004

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Detroit preservationists claim the city didn’t play fair when it decided in May to demolish the former Statler-Hilton Hotel located downtown on Washington Boulevard.

Earlier this month, the nonprofit group Friends of the Book-Cadillac requested that the Wayne County Circuit Court review the legality of a May decision by the city’s Historic District Commission allowing the demolition of the Statler. A court date has not been set.

Francis Grunow, vice president of the nonprofit group that fought to preserve the Madison-Lenox hotel last year and the venerable Book-Cadillac before that, followed the court filing by writing an open letter to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, calling the decision to demolish “patently UNCOOL.”

You see, guv Jen thinks one of the keys to Michigan’s economic revival is to convince people of our coolness. We think one of the uncoolest things a person (or, for that matter, an entire state) can do is to desperately trumpet their perceived coolness, but we digress.

Grunow says Detroit’s Planning and Development Department violated a 1945 state law requiring the appropriate Detroit Citizens District Council to hold a hearing and offer a recommendation before officials make a final decision on matters such as this.

That, apparently, didn’t happen.

Could it be the city is rushing things with an eye toward the Super Bowl coming to town in 2006?

Well, yeah. But Grunow says his group’s beef is not with the city’s desire to give downtown a makeover so that it looks good when the national spotlight is focused here. Instead, the concern is that officials desperate to give good face are imperiling the city’s rich architectural heritage.

The city hopes to begin demolition of the Statler in the fall, and will pay the $7 million demo costs using money from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Clean Michigan Initiative fund, according to MDEQ press secretary Bob McCann.

“We want to make sure the court knows how we feel about the injustice of the process,” says Grunow. “The money to be used has come about in an incorrect way.” He emphasizes that the decision never should have been made without going to the citizens’ council first.

One of the ironies at play is the fact that the Historic District Commission’s own staff suggested that the decision to tear the Statler down is premature. A report by staffer Kristine Kidorf refuted the city’s claim that it has made every effort to sell the Statler to a developer, or mothball it until one comes along. Built in 1914, the hotel has been empty since 1975.

The most recent attempt to market it was in 1999, when a request for proposals was issued. Only two applications were submitted, and negotiations for both were unsuccessful.

Officials at the city’s Planning and Development Department and the quasi-public Detroit Economic Growth Corporation did not return repeated calls from Metro Times.

According to Kidorf’s report, these officials told the Historic District Commission — which had to sign off on the decision to demolish — that the city wants to build a multi-use residential complex in the Statler’s place.

News Hits says good luck. Recent history suggests that nothing will turn up in the Statler’s stead but — take a guess — a parking lot.

“While we wouldn’t be opposed to demolishing a structure to put a new one together, it doesn’t seem to get to that point,” says Marco Frattarelli, head of the Citizens District Council overseeing downtown. “Just look at the northwest corner of downtown, behind the Fox Theatre. Those are examples of buildings that have been demolished and left.”

Even Grunow admits that the Statler will likely come down. After that, the city has 14 months to put something there. Otherwise, Super Bowl fans will have one more place to park, and one less architectural gem to admire.

Contact News Hits at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.

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