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.

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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.
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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.