In Ilitch arena district, a new round of development versus historic preservation

The Cole apartment building is one of the historic buildings that stands in the way of a widened Temple Street. The former Alhambra apartments, seen at right, may be redeveloped.
The Cole apartment building, left, is one of the historic buildings that stands in the way of a widened Temple Street. The former Alhambra apartments, seen at right, may be redeveloped. | Google Maps

As construction on the Ilitchville Detroit Red Wings arena district-formerly-know-as-the-Cass-Corridor continues apace, now comes word that more vacant, historic buildings could be in the developers’ crosshairs.

From The Detroit News:

The Wings’ owners would like to widen Temple Street between Cass and Woodward avenues. That stretch of Temple is one block north of the 650,000-square feet new sports/entertainment venue under construction. It’s slated to open in 2017.

The plans were revealed Thursday evening to the Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board by representatives for Olympia Development of Michigan, which is the development arm for the Wings owners. The advisory board helps shape local historic districts in the city. It’s currently working on a historic district proposal named after nearby Cass Park. That proposed historic district includes the stretch of Temple where Olympia Development has big plans.

The News reports that representatives from Olympia proposed renovating three buildings near the corner of Temple and Cass, including the massive Hotel Fort Wayne (later called the American Hotel) next to the Masonic Temple. But the road widening proposal leaves in doubt three other structures: a former parking garage and the former Alden apartments on Temple and the Cole building at 2753 Park Ave.

Olympia demolished the historic Park Avenue Hotel earlier this summer.

Amy Elliott Bragg is a local historian, blogger and president of the nonprofit Preservation Detroit, which nominated Cass Park for historic district designation last year. She told 8-Wood the nonprofit has been working for a year on the historic district proposal for Cass Park, which is already on the National Register, to bring stronger protections by regulating it under the city’s Historic District Commission.

“We’re at the very end of a long process,” Bragg said.

Bragg, who attended the Thursday Historic Designation Advisory Board meeting, said Olympia asked the advisory panel to change the boundaries of the historic district. Olympia wants to widen Temple by about 25 feet and add a landscaped median. That would affect the three buildings on the south side of the street, though Bragg said the Olympia officials never explicitly said it would demolish them.

“I assume that what they wanted was for those buildings to be excluded from the boundaries in the first place so that if this does become a historic district, they won’t have to go through the Historic District Commission” to demolish them, Bragg said.

The idea of widening roads would appear to clash with the developers’ stated intent of creating a walkable urban neighborhood full of vitality. Bragg said the Olympia reps also argue the three buildings have little historic significance, since they weren’t designed by celebrated architects and never housed anyone famous.

But Bragg said buildings qualify for inclusion in historic districts when they add to the character and history of a neighborhood, contribute to its aesthetics and fall within significant periods of history.

“All of that stuff is true with those three buildings,” she said.

The advisory board approved the boundaries of the proposed historic district in July. Despite Olympia’s request, the panel voted again to approve the boundaries on Thursday and to send the matter to the City Council for a final vote before the historic district takes effect.

Given past precedent, expect more lobbying on this issue before the City Council votes.

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