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Ilitch Parking Lot Legacy

Posted to MichiganNow.org on Monday, November 24, 2014

INTRO: Detroit media have given favorable reviews of the new hockey stadium planned along Woodward Ave. It’s a $650 million project. More than half, 58%, is coming from taxpayers. It’s expected to create thousands of jobs. Thursday at City Council, Ilitch family business representatives asked for a zoning change that could allow them to demolish two historic buildings 1oo feet from where the arena will go. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus heard from people who want to stop the Ilitch’s and save the buildings.

In the suburbs, it’s common to hear people praise Mike Ilitch who started Little Ceasar’s Pizza in 1959 then built a sports empire downtown. Together, Mike and Marian Ilitch are worth $3.2 billion. They have been so generous, folks say. If it wasn’t for them, downtown would not have survived. Yet others think Ilitch is the problem.

“There’s no plan for the rest of the site. What’s the rest of the site going to be? Gravel parking lots. That’s their record. I’m not making this up. And this historic hotel is obviously planned for demolition.”

That’s John Lauve from Holly who grew up in Detroit. He’s a regular at public comment sessions on this issue and on the sale of the state fairgrounds at 8 Mile.

For about 20 years, the Ilitch’s have been buying up land west of the Fox Theater and now north of -I-75. They have often got millions from taxpayers to pay to demolish the buildings on the land. When sports fans drive in to go to Lions and Tigers games, the lots are opened up for paid parking. Ilitch earns the money. The rest of the time they are empty of cars, people and commerce.

Olympia Entertainment is one of the Ilitch family’s company’s. A project designer from Olympia, Richard Heapes, spoke to the council Thursday. Ilitch has unveiled sketches of the future hockey stadium. But the drawings only include a small percentage of the 45 blocks they control. It only includes one of the hotels.

The current zoning doesn’t force them to reuse either hotel. So they want the option of demolishing one or both. Only Council President Brenda Jones and Councilman Andre Spivey attended the hearing. They didn’t have enough members to vote on the Ilitch request.

“This whole development is going to consist of many small buildings. there is no reason why these two can’t be two of those buildings.”

That’s Claire Nowak Boyd from the non profit group called Preservation Detroit. The buildings re the Eddystone and Park Ave Hotels. They were designed in 1924 by one of the city’s great architects, Louis Kamper. You can see them standing alone, close to each other on the west side of Woodward. Almost all the buildings within a couple blocks of them are gone. Jerry Belanger lives in what’s left of the neighborhood.

“I want to remind the city council that in 1998 the same group promised to renovate the Life Building: not done. Renovate the Blenheim: not done. United Artists building: not done. Fine Arts Building: Adamo (demolition company) put a hole in the roof because it was historic. So it would rain in there so they could condemn it. The Adams Theater: gone. There are several other buildings they own that are boarded up. Asking them to go ahead and do something on the heels of the other failed promises from when they got the casino and those they made when they got Tiger Stadium is somehow expecting Matty Maroun to get up and save the train station. It’s not going to happen.”

Belanger used all of his two minutes allowed for public comment.

“I urge the city council to put together a group of all those people that border all of their land and hold off any action until you have a discussion about what the monopoly of parking has done. And now adding to that the monopoly they have in Grand Circus Park. They close off every parking lot for 11 businesses. You cannot park down there. This is the DDA and DEGC’s idea of economic growth–when it hurts us and helps them.”

Charlie Marcuse is in 30’s. He grew up in the suburbs.

“What’s important to young people today, why they are moving back to cities and urban environments is the connection to their history, their parents, to a culture. There’s not a lot of culture and activity in the suburbs. Certainly growing up with acres of grass between you and the nearest neighbors. We’re returning to cities to be part of an integrated community and by destroying that history it takes away a lot of what excites us about the city.”

Despite the praise from suburbanites and politicians state wide, some Detroiters consider the Ilitch family real estate pattern destructive.

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Jerry Belanger, 54, restores, owns and operates historic buildings near Ilitchtown.

Jerry Belanger, 54, restores, owns and operates historic buildings near Ilitchtown.

John Lauve of Holly, retired from GM's Clark Plant in SW Detroit.

John Lauve of Holly, retired from GM's Clark Plant in SW Detroit.

One of many trucks on the land where the hockey stadium will be built.

One of many trucks on the land where the hockey stadium will be built.

Park Ave at left then Eddystone. Photos taken November 19, the day city council heard testimony from preservationists.

Park Ave at left then Eddystone. Photos taken November 19, the day city council heard testimony from preservationists.

A movie set worker approaches photographer asking him to leave the scene. The Eddystone and Park Ave Hotels excite film makers and other creative people. They show loss and potential at the same time. This photo taken Nov. 7, 2014, the day on which Detroit's bankruptcy was approved.

A movie set worker approaches photographer asking him to leave the scene. The Eddystone and Park Ave Hotels excite film makers and other creative people. They show loss and potential at the same time. This photo taken Nov. 7, 2014, the day on which Detroit's bankruptcy was approved.

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