INTRO: The Herman-Kiefer Hospital complex will be saved. Detroit officials introduced two New York City developers to residents off the Lodge Freeway near the Boston-Edison neighborhood. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports that some are breathing sighs of relief. And some still don’t trust the authorities.
Herman-Kiefer sits above the freeway adorned in red and yellow brick. The main building is a half million square feet and another seven buildings surround it. The emergency manager closed it in 2013. Some city officials wanted it torn down to stop it from becoming another Packard Plant wreck.
Karriem Holman’s mom worked in the building for thirty years.
“So I kind of grew up here. This has a personal thing for me. It’s a good thing to see. To hear that they were thinking about tearing the place down would have been very depressing. I don’t think any of us wanted to see that.”
Holman and senior city officials held a meeting Wednesday night, inside the lobby of the former hospital. The city pays $500,000 a year for round the clock security patrolmen. Demolition would have cost $12 million. Now this New York City developer is putting together money and people to take responsibility for it.
“It’s a Kahn building. It’s great,” said Ron Castellano, 46. “You can see the brick work on the top edge. The brick work on the arches. It’s great. It’s great that it’s saved.”
Castellano is an architect and businessmen who has rehabbed large buildings and run restaurants on the trendy Lower East Side of Manhattan. But this will be his biggest project. “It’s great. The potential. It’s still intact. Huge potential. Beautiful building,” said Castellano.
“Cities change and cities evolve. Now is the time for Detroit to evolve. That’s why I’m here. You know you see the scale of what can be done and the opportunities. For certain people it makes a lot of sense to be in Detroit.”
Inside the lobby of the hospital where city officials held the meeting, Castellano told an audience of about 40 people how it could be reused.
“Community market, events, concerts, restore two tennis courts, three basketball courts, and again this was earlier so we can discuss what should be on the playgrounds. Skatepark… again this are just ideas that we threw out that could happen quickly.”
The complex is huge. It allows scrappers to lurk and strike. The developers need to show that people are fixing up and using the place. Castellano has been coming to Detroit for two years. The city’s new planning and development director is Maurice Cox. He’s only been here for three months. He praised the group from New York.
“It’s very unusual that a developer doesn’t have a plan in their back pocket. A secret plan. They have no plan.” The audience laughed, the developers smiled though nervous and said yes they do have a plan. Then Cox tried to take back his words.
“I’m sure you have a plan somewhere. Because you know this makes some sense.”
Cox was the Mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia. Home of the University of Virigina and Thomas Jefferson. Cox is a preservationist. Detroit has bred two generations of demolitionists. Cox is just happy the wrecking balls won’t come. Now, he’s saying his job is to help residents who have suffered for half a century.
The epicenter of the 1967 riots is one quarter mile west. Cox wants to beautify all the empty lots where houses once stood.
“That gives us a way making sure that those who are there have a way to stay there and their property appreciates and they can reap the benefit.”
“Does that mean the city will be resident friendly and not resident hostile?” said Rashid Savage.
“Well I’m new to town,” Cox said. “I don’t know what resident hostile you’re talking about.”
Rashid Savage said he and others have been cutting grass on Clairmount Street for years with no government help. Cox said he’s not just trying to save the monument, but lift up the surrounding neighborhood.
The project will include the two public school buildings near Herman-Kiefer: Crosman and Hutchins. Taxpayers put millions into renovations nine years ago. Three years later, school officials closed them and scrappers shredded them. Residents are suspicious, like this woman in her late ’60’s.
“You’ve had time to come up with all of these plans. You had less than 48 hours to give us notification of the meeting. Then we get here and you tell us that we are involved at the beginning when you’re presentation is evidence to the contrary. I just want to be treated with respect.”
Last week the Duggan Administration ensured that the historic Park Avenue Hotel will be demolished. City planner Maurice Cox indicated he had no power to save that one.