Red Wings arena crew digs up foundation of historic hotel without demo approval

Crews began digging a large hole around the historic Hotel Park Avenue. Photo by Mark Hall.
Crews began digging a large hole around the historic Hotel Park Avenue. Photo by Mark Hall.

The fate of the Hotel Park Avenue has not been determined yet.

But Olympia Development, which is building the new Red Wings arena, has already dug a large hole around the historic building, exposing the foundation and alarming preservationists.

hotel Park Avenue, cass corridor, historic, detroit historic district commission, red wings, arena, hotel
The footprint of the new Red Wings arena. Photo by Steve Neavling

On May 12, Olympia Development plans t0 urge the Detroit Historic District Commission to approve demolition of the 13-story Italian Renaissance building to make way for a loading dock. Approval, however, is anything but a certainty because the 91-year-old building is largely considered to be structurally sound.

Here’s a rare glimpse inside the Hotel Park Avenue. 

In an agreement with city council last month, Olympia pledged to preserve the neighboring Eddystone as long as council members approved the Park Avenue demo.

But since the Park Avenue is designated as a historic district, the council doesn’t get the final say. On the local level, that responsibility falls on the Historic District Commission, which tends to support preservation over demolition when a historic structure is reasonably salvageable.

If the commission doesn’t approve the demolition, Olympia has two options: Ask Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration to deem the building unsafe and approve an emergency demolition order or appeal the commission’s decision to the Michigan State Historic Preservation Review Board.

In the 1920s, the lower Cass Corridor was teeming with fancy shops and hotels. But the area declined sharply after World War II when white, middle-class residents began moving to safer neighborhoods and the suburbs.

Before long, the area was overtaken by drugs, crime and poverty. The few upscale apartments and hotels that weren’t demolished hung on by providing services to lower-income people.

The Park Avenue Hotel, for example, became a senior complex and then a rehab center for drug addicts and homeless people.

Both hotels were designed by Louis Kamper, the mastermind behind the Book-Cadillac Hotel, the Broderick Tower and other hotels and downtown landmarks.

The Red Wings arena is expected to be finished by late 2017.

Related: Comet Bar, in the shadow of the Red Wings arena, set to close.  

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • Ziesken

    “exposing the foundation and alarming preservationists”
    Please cite some alarmed preservationists. You’re acting like they already demo’d the building. Muckraker is a joke of a publication. Always trying to make everything sound like the end of the world.

  • Robert Tulloch

    Rah rah rah. All this sports BS sucks as well as the red wings stadium.
    America is in its death throes

  • John T. Feret

    Least surprising news since Ben Carson’s sudden decision to run for (get this, lol!) president.

    • John T. Feret

      Actually, the one thing I’m surprised by is that so far we haven’t awakened to the news that the wrecking ball took out the Eddystone by “mistake.”

  • scolls

    Steve, did you take anymore photos? How big is the hole on the Woodward side and are all the smaller buildings gone?

    • muckraker_steve

      Thanks for the questions. These are the only photos. It’s difficult to tell how deep the hole goes, but after talking to a lot of experts on this, it seems the building is safe so far because the basement is likely very deep.

      • Ziesken

        Oh, so the experts say the building is safe. Starting your article with “exposing the foundation and alarming preservationists” was clearly some very responsible journalism.

  • JeffKeathley

    The Detroit Historic Commission would be just wasting their time dragging it out. It would be nothing more than obstructionist posturing. If they deny the request to demo the building, it goes up to state level which is appointed by the governor. Snyder gave approval for this project and fully supports it.

    It’s time to move Detroit forward!

    • Mitchell Brown

      People visit cities with beautiful architecture. They spend their money in these cities. If Detroit destroys what beauty it has left, then its just digging more of its own grave. Of course, there are many “Americans” who simply don’t care. They look at their suburban commercial strips lined with the most banal corporate fry-pits, Wal-Marts, drive-thrus, parking lots and they simply don’t care. Since WWII America has created what is probably the single most ugly man-made landscape in human history. Also, there is the unacknowledged fact that suburbs are in fact more costly to maintain than pedestrian friendly cities. No, Detroit should absolutely save this building and re-use it.

      • RedVagOfCourage

        The single most ugly landscape? You should check out post WWII Soviet construction. Or London. The Brits have obliterated their skyline.

        Bringing a historic building up to code is not cheap or easy. I don’t know the interior, but if scrappers have gotten to it, the costs to do it right may be extremely prohibited. Even if this area becomes viable, it could be decades before you make the costs back up.

        A lot of people don’t realize this but often times it is just cheaper to raze a structure and rebuild it than attempt to restore or repurpose a structure. This is especially true for Detroit’s industrial zones.

        I would love to see the building restored. In junction with the new arena, this would make sense. But I still do not have access to the books nor know the condition of the structure to make a definitive answer on whether it is viable to do it.

        • Neal Blaise Salogar

          London is uglier than, say, Roseville or Garden City? Don’t think so.
          And automatically doing the cheapest thing in the short term is exactly why most ‘burbs are ugly, and NOT the path to a better Detroit. Their will be plenty of space for Illitch to throw up plenty of banal structures within “the District” for all the suburbanites to flock to on game days and to leave empty as a ghost town on all the others.

          • RedVagOfCourage

            London’s skyline has been devastated over the last 30 years.

      • Ziesken

        They’re saving a nearly identical building next door. This building is redundant.

        • Mitchell Brown

          Wrong. This building provides a “critical mass” of handsome traditional buildings. Essentially, you’re advocating saving only 1 of each style/period building and that would be “ok”. Have you ever been out of the country? Detroit has destroyed enough of its traditional architectural fabric. Now, I don’t expect people who regularly drive around the suburbs to understand this. They see the corporate dreck that passes for “architecture” and don’t see a problem. They see farmland and woodland paved over for “free” parking and see this as a positive benefit. These people are beyond saving. Their appreciation for the ugly is congenital and I don’t think it can be fixed. Their opinions should be rejected out right.

          • Ziesken

            Yes. Saving one of two identical buildings is sufficient if the other stands in the way of substantive progress. The loading dock that they want to install here is a huge deal. Every major event at the Palace is a loss for the city of Detroit. Being able to compete with that will bring in so much revenue for the city.
            I’m also not sure who the straw man is that you’ve created, but how noble for you to have vanquished him.
            I look out my bedroom window every day at both of these hotels and it is a stretch to call them handsome. Even if fixed up, they are both unremarkable. The Grabd Army, Ransom Gillis, the Wurlitzer, the Book Tower, the Metropolitan Building… I’m all for saving truly beautiful, truly historic buildings, but saving two identical and unremarkable buildings just because the city tried previously to make federal money available by calling them “historic” is very misguided.
            -Signed, A Detroit Resident

          • Mitchell Brown

            Nope. Its the normal, decent buildings of unremarkable caliber that make a good city. The landmarks are the freaks. Your problem seems to be that you believe demolition is somehow free-market while preservation is somehow a communist plot. Read a book on urbanism and architecture. I would suggest Steve Semes of Notre Dame.

          • Ziesken

            Thanks for telling me what my problem is, and what my political opinions are on the free market and communism. I was clearly very confused about my own opinion. All along I thought I was a progressive liberal, but I guess you’ve diagnosed me as a free-market conservative.
            Obviously a city needs normal unremarkable buildings, but you don’t let them stand in the way of a new project being able to reach its true potential. The stadium is happening. Period. So we can either spend a bunch of money to save this building and have a stadium that can’t compete with the Palace and will therefore be underutilized, or we can do this right, and let any of the other vacant lots downtown house replacement unremarkable buildings. Do you really think that as the city grows it will get filled with “landmark” “freak” buildings?

  • Ballsy Terri

    Actually, exposing the foundation might be nothing more than a precautionary action to shore up the building’s footings to insure that the heavy construction equipment and excavations around the almost 100 y.o. building’s foundation will be undamaged in case the hotel stays in place.
    It’s FAR less expensive to do preventative work now, than repair work after damage has occurred.

    • muckraker_steve

      Thanks for the insight. We’ve talked to a lot of experts on this, and there seem to be a lot of theories., including what you said. Another theory is that Olympia is surveying the foundation in hopes of beefing up its case for an emergency demo. Another construction expert told us it looks like this is demo preparation. Hopefully Olympia will return our calls and give an explanation. A state inspector may be heading there this morning after seeing this.

      • Horace

        Remember its the Illitches. They are digging around it to cripple it so the City has no choice but to approve its demolition because it is now a hazard.