INTRO: Hudson’s was considered by many to be the greatest department store in the world. It opened in Detroit in 1911, closed in 1983 and was demolished in 1998. Several women told the Detroit Truth & Reconciliation Commission about separate and unequal treatment for blacks at the store. But even though they experienced racism there… they didn’t want the building torn down. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus asked two powerful men why Hudson’s was demolished.
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Every spring on Mackinac Island, The Detroit Regional Chamber holds its policy conference. Journalists get to suck down shrimp, smoked salmon and unlimited drinks while bumping into metro Detroit’s elite. I stopped Bob Schostak inside the Grand Hotel. He’s the head of the Michigan Republican Party. He’s also the head of Schostak Brothers Real Estate Development. I asked Bobby Schostak about Hudson’s.
“Now there were lots of opportunities. But the Hudson building was viewed as a lynchpin to the redevelopment in the area. It was viewed as a problem site if it was left as is. How do you promote other development around it like Compuware to happen. So there was a lot of moving parts, all interelated. All coming on with the Campus Martius Park redevelopment. That you can’t separate one piece from the other. It was part of a synergistic plan.”
“So therefore that’s why the decision was made to tear Hudson’s down.”
“Yeah I guess so. That decision was made by the Detroit Downtown Group, DDI and the DECG, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. That was not a developer driven decision.”
The Schostaks have redeveloped city properties though their primary business has been building up the suburbs. Historic preservationists like Janese Chapman say (in the online magazine The Metropolis Observed) “Hudson’s is a part of my history and my sense of place in the city of Detroit. It helps to define who I am and how I grew up.”
It cost taxpayers more than $15 million to demolish it. Preservationists thought public and private money could have been better spent fixing it up. Developer Bob Schostak says no.
“To keep this building mothballed and safe was multi million dollars per year. Decay, bricks fall off buildings, roofs collapse, water in basements, mold. It’s horrible. I don’t know how many fives or tens of millions of dollars it would be to mothball it while you’re waiting. Would Compuware be there if Hudson’s still was? My sense is no. Because you couldn’t get all the infrastructure necessary to build what Compuware is today without a full interrelationship with all the other sites.”
Mayor Dennis Archer told a local newspaper “everybody loves the old Hudson’s. I love it too. But you can’t stand in the way of progress.”
Archer also described an exciting new era for Detroit. We’re paving the way for the new Campus Martius development which will give back to Detroit the downtown our citizens deserve and which has been lacking for so long.”
Developers from Michigan, Wisconsin, California and Colorado were interested in Hudson’s. But city officials issued no request for proposals. This sound was recorded from a nearby skyscraper the moment 2,700 pounds of explosives collapsed the landmark.
Back on Mackinac Island last spring, I asked former Mayor Dennis Archer why he agreed to demolish the building.
“There were proposals coming from people who said if we get the casino license we will be happy to redo Hudson’s. But when all of that went by the wayside then there was nothing productive that was presented to me or presented to the city to do something at Hudson’s. So we decided that we would take it down to make the site available for business development.”
“That’s been 14 years. Do you have any regrets about that decision?” McCarus asked.
“No I don’t have any regrets about it,” Mayor Archer said.
The demolition of Cass Tech High school last year brought up some of the bad blood from Hudson’s. Richard Baron is a successful developer in St. Louis. But he grew up near 7 Mile and Livernois. He wanted to help save Cass Tech last year and he wanted to help save Hudson’s in 1998.
“Well I had been interested in seeing what could be done. I had been contacted by several groups in Detroit at the time that there was a debate about preserving Hudson’s I thought there were interesting possibilities to preserve it. None of them, as far as I know, were ever accepted by the Archer administration. And of course it was taken down! Nothing has replaced it. And there is this enormous hole in downtown. Many other cities that have come through the kind of population loss like Detroit, made it a point to preserve their flagship department stores downtown. And it’s made an enormous difference.”
For more segments in this series about the Detroit Truth and Reconciliation Commission, stay tuned to this station and click on michigannow.org.