UPDATE – WEDNESDAY, 6/21: Yesterday the City Council voted to approve an interim historic designation for the Hotel Ansonia and Atlanta Apartments. This triggers the Historic Designation Advisory Board to begin a study. While the study is underway, any major changes to the buildings (including demolition) must be approved by the Detroit Historic District Commission. There will not be a committee meeting on Thursday, 6/22.
Your support was VITAL for getting this measure passed! We heard from staff members of several City Council representatives that they heard from many of their constituents about the importance of preserving these buildings and historic character in the Cass Corridor. THANK YOU!
ACTION ALERT: Olympia Development of Michigan (ODM) has confirmed that they are planning to demolish the Hotel Ansonia and Atlanta Apartments, in addition to two other buildings in the Cass Corridor. These 20th-century apartment buildings date to 1914-1915 and are similar to many formerly vacant apartment buildings in Midtown and the Cass Corridor that have been redeveloped in recent years, including the Strathmore, Cass Plaza, and the Davenport. These rehabs have created or preserved affordable housing and contributed millions of dollars in economic development to the neighborhood.
But Olympia says the Hotel Ansonia and the Atlanta Apartments “lack viable redevelopment potential.” We think that’s short-sighted.
We can still save these buildings.
This Thursday, June 22 at 10 am, City Council Planning & Economic Development committee will hear a proposal to designate an interim historic district for the block at Cass and Henry that includes the Hotel Ansonia and Atlanta Apartments. UPDATE 6/21: This meeting will no longer be held, as the interim historic designation already passed.
What can you do?
- If you haven’t already, please sign our petition and share it with your network. We will bring a list of signatures, sorted by zip code, to the meeting on Thursday to show the broad community support for saving the apartments.
- Call or write your City Council representative and the Mayor and tell them you support an interim historic designation for the Cass-Henry block. Ask them what more they will do to protect Detroit’s historic buildings.
- Attend the meeting on Thursday, June 22 at 10 am at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center and make a public comment in support of an interim historic district designation for Cass-Henry. UPDATE 6/21: This meeting will no longer be held.
Why it matters
Not sure what to say at public comment? You can simply state your name and that you support the designation of Cass-Henry as a historic district. Shy? Come with friends and pick one person to speak — that person can say, “I’m here with my 10 friends to support an interim designation” while you all stand up and wave.
Here are a few more points we think are important — feel free to pick one, give it your own spin, and keep your comments brief.
This is about more than saving two apartment buildings. This is about who gets to decide what our neighborhoods look like, what buildings have value, and whose history we save. Please give the community a voice in that process by supporting an interim designation for the Cass-Henry block. A historic district will give neighborhood residents a chance to be heard about future development decisions in the district.
Embracing existing structures during new development is a foundation of good urbanism. According to their website, Olympia has drawn inspiration for The District Detroit from hip urban neighborhoods like Greenwich Village in New York City, LoDo in Denver, and the Back Bay in Boston. These are some of the best-preserved historic neighborhoods in the country, which is part of the reason they have thrived. A vision for a vibrant, authentic Cass Park is best achieved by building on the density that remains in the corridor and saving existing older buildings around the arena like these two apartment buildings.
Preserve affordable housing in the Cass Corridor. Research from the National Trust for Historic Preservation shows that affordable housing and historic preservation go hand in hand. In Detroit, our blocks of older, smaller buildings contain 32% more units of affordable housing than larger, newer blocks. These apartment buildings once provided housing for lower-income Cass Corridor residents but have been vacant since Olympia acquired them in 2009. Please support the preservation of affordable housing in the Cass Corridor by saving the Cass-Henry block.
Building reuse drives economic development, too. Many buildings in far worse condition than the Hotel Ansonia and the Atlanta Apartments have been or are being rehabbed in the Cass Corridor, including Cass Plaza at Cass and MLK, the Scott Mansion at Park and Peterboro, and the Strathmore at Cass and Alexandrine. The real estate market is improving quickly and dramatically. We find it hard to believe that redeveloping these apartments in one of the most desirable locations in Detroit — blocks from the QLine, Comerica Park, the new arena, and scores of great bars and restaurants — doesn’t make economic sense. Reuse will create jobs and save waste from landfills.
Historic designation will make tax credits available. Federal historic tax credits rely on the historic designation of a structure, a celebration of the building’s unique architecture and contribution on a local, statewide or national level. A historic designation for Cass-Henry will make buildings on the block eligible for the financing packages responsible for impressive neighboring projects such as the long-vacant David Whitney Building and The Strathmore in Midtown, built in 1924 as a hotel and vacant for over a decade before its rehabilitation into a mixed-income apartment building in 2016. These same incentives are no doubt being utilized by ODM on recently promised projects such as the United Artist Building.
Olympia has owned these buildings for eight years. In that time, they have done nothing to improve their condition nor have they attempted to sell them as far as we know. According to a BSEED report in April, they have been poorly maintained and open to trespass. Olympia should be held to the same standards for stewarding their property as any other property owner in Detroit. Rather than demolish, Olympia must secure, maintain, and redevelop these properties. If Olympia cannot take care of these buildings, they should be sold to a developer who can.
Olympia promised to rehab 15 more buildings in the arena district and downtown when the Park Avenue hotel was demolished. While their recently-announced plans to rehab four historic buildings are exciting, they have so far torn down more buildings than they have shared plans to save. We respectfully ask City Council to hold Olympia accountable to their promises to preserve the historic character of the neighborhood and to publicly share their plans to bring 15 or more vacant buildings back online. How many more times will we sit here before City Council asking for you to hold Olympia accountable to their promises and the voice of the community?
“The District Detroit” is not a new neighborhood. The Cass Corridor has been a distinctive Detroit place for over a century. A District Detroit that has erased the landscape almost entirely in favor of new construction is not a development that reflects or respects its community. We certainly do not argue that investment in the Cass Corridor isn’t welcome, but under what terms and for what entity’s benefit are these decisions being made?