WE DID IT: On April 19, 2016, City Council unanimously approved the creation of the Cass Park local historic district. This protection makes it likelier that the existing neighborhood around the new hockey arena will be preserved and integrated into new development — and gives preservationists a crucial tool to fight future attempts to demolish or radically alter buildings in the district. Iconic Detroit buildings, including the Masonic Temple, Alhambra Flats apartments, S.S. Kresge World Headquarters, the Michigan Chronicle building, and the Hotel Fort Wayne / American Hotel.
This was not a perfect victory: the boundaries originally approved by the Historic Designation Advisory Board (based on an existing National Register district) were altered by the City Council at the eleventh hour to remove the entire Mariners Inn campus, which includes the historic John Avery house at 475 Ledyard. The boundaries also excluded the Cole Building and the Wil-Mar Garage, but included the Alden Apartments, which Olympia had original asked to exclude and will now commit to rehab.
Your support makes it possible for us to advocate for local historic districts. Thank you for all of your letters, Tweets, and public comments! If you’d like to help us take on more local historic designations in the future, become a member of Preservation Detroit or make a donation today!
UPDATE: 3/29/2016 The City Council Planning & Economic Development Committee is scheduled to hear the proposed local historic district for Cass Park on Thursday, April 7, at 10:00 AM. The committee insisted at the last hearing in February that Olympia would NOT receive another extension, so this could be our last chance to publicly speak out in favor of the boundaries that HDAB already passed. (Olympia wants to amend the boundaries to exclude three buildings on the south side of Temple, east of Cass: the Alden Apartments, the Wil-Mar Garage, and the Cole Building.) Plan to attend and give public comment or write to your Council representative before the meeting and follow us on Twitter @PresDetroit and with the hashtag #CassParkHD. If the local proposed Cass Park HD is approved by P&ED, it heads to a full Council vote.
UPDATE: 2/12/2016 At the 2/11 Detroit City Council Planning & Economic Development Hearing, Olympia asked the City Council Planning and Economic Development Committee for yet ANOTHER extension so that ODM and the city could continue to “negotiate” i.e. Olympia could continue to lobby the city to make special exceptions for them. City Council granted an extension till April reluctantly, with strong language to Olympia reps from Castaneda-Lopez, Leland, and Benson suggesting that this was the last extension ODM would receive. Castaneda-Lopez wanted the PED committee to establish a temporary ban on any demos within the proposed district (as is allowed under the HD process rules), but the committee opted to accept a verbal commitment from Olympia that no buildings would be demo’d between now and the April meeting instead.
UPDATE: 2/9/2016 Look for PD on Twitter at 10am Thursday, Feb. 11 @PresDetroit for live commentary from the Planning & Economic Development Committee Hearing as #CassParkHD is discussed.
UPDATE 1/15/2016 Outcome from Detroit City Council Planning & Economic Development Committee Hearing on #CassParkHD: Olympia (not here today) wants more time to “cross the Ts and dot the Is.” Tabled and will be back for discussion on Feb. 11.
Highlights from live tweets @PresDetroit:
Maurice Cox: Development is all outside of proposed HD. HD will give “clues” for how development should unfold.
District will help developers understand what the scale of the neighborhood should be, says Cox. Uses example of Brush Park.
Thank you to all who emailed and tweeted council members for a walkable neighborhood with character! Including our historic architecture in redevelopment is smart planning – Now that this was pushed to February 11, still plenty of time for YOU to weigh in with your councilmember.
Call to action! Speak up about protecting historic buildings in Cass Park, a National Register district that could be dramatically impacted by new development in the Arena District. We’re asking you urgently to:
- write a letter, tweet, or email to your City Council representative
- attend the committee meeting at City Hall this Thursday at 10 am
- share this action alert on social media or via email (links to share or tweet are at the end of this post)
Here are some talking points to help you draft a message or comments:
Olympia has already promised us #15morerehabs as part of their deal to demolish the Park Avenue Hotel. Now they’re asking for the freedom to demolish three more historic buildings. What gives? What are Olympia’s plans for saving the Blenheim, Detroit Life, United Artists, or the Loyal Order of Moose building?
What’s going on in Cass Park? The area known as Cass Park — anchored by a historic green space of the same name —is already on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2014, frustrated by the loss of a group of Victorian homes on Temple St., we asked Councilmember Raquel Castañeda-López to propose a local designation for Cass Park. (All of the properties that were demolished had contributed to the national district and would have been eligible for local designation.) The City Council approved the proposal and the proposed designation moved to the Historic Designation Advisory Board for a study.
Now, the final designation report has been completed and approved by HDAB, reviewed by the law department, and it’s headed to City Council for public hearing and approval. The boundaries of the local historic district are based on the existing National Register district.
Here’s the catch: Olympia Development has expressed support for the historic district on the condition that it excludes key buildings south of Temple, between Woodward and Cass, specifically the Alden Apartments, the Wil-Mar Garage, and the Cole Building. This will come up at the public hearing and Olympia will pressure City Council to approve the district only after amending its boundaries.
Why is it important that those buildings are part of the district?: We see two important reasons why City Council should approve the boundaries as they were written and approved by HDAB:
- The “whole” of a historic district is greater than its parts. Contributing properties in a historic district are like teeth — but each contributes to the strength, beauty, and function of the whole. To lose any of them — even the less-than-sexy ones that weren’t designed by a famous architect, or those that have lost some integrity over time — compromises the rest and makes it harder for the district as a whole to do its job — to tell the stories of the neighborhood’s past through its architecture and scale.
- City Council should respect the integrity of the process. It would be highly unusual for City Council to agree to amend the boundaries at this point in the process. The HDAB is comprised of community members appointed for their expertise in architecture, architectural history, and planning. It has conducted a lengthy study of this area to determine its boundaries based on aesthetic character, integrity, and historical significance. The interests of a private developer should not be the basis on which decisions about the long-term future of Detroit’s architectural heritage is made.
Since plans for the new arena were made public, the prospect of developing this “empty” area has been celebrated over and over again as a huge opportunity for Detroit. While the prospect of economic investment and opportunity in this area remains exciting, we challenge the idea that there is currently “nothing else there.” The neighborhood where the new hockey arena will be located has history, identity, and community that should be protected and celebrated. Integrating the existing fabric of the neighborhood through preservation and adaptive reuse will save money, create jobs, and have a lighter environmental impact than demolition and new construction. And if the Ilitches are really serious about creating an authentic, walkable, and livable urban place, preserving the unique buildings that are already there is a great, simple, inexpensive place to start.
Contact your Council representative today and/or plan to attend the public hearing this Thursday, January 14 at 10 am, at CAYMC.
Here’s more info on the buildings at risk, and the full report of the Historic Designation Advisory Board:
MORE LINKS FOR REFERENCE:
— by Amy Elliott Bragg