Mayor Duggan hijacking historic commission ahead of Red Wings arena vote

Hotel Park Avenue (right) and Hotel Eddystone. Photo by Steve Neavling/MCM
Hotel Park Avenue (right) and Hotel Eddystone. Photo by Steve Neavling/MCM

By Steve Neavling and Abigail Shah
Motor City Muckraker

In the two weeks leading up to a controversial vote on the fate of a historic hotel near the planned Red Wings arena, Mayor Mike Duggan waged an unusually aggressive, questionable campaign in support of demolishing the 91-year-old building.

Beginning late last month, Duggan replaced an award-winning preservationist and long-time member of the Historic District Commission, Julie Long, with a former water employee and campaign supporter, Kenneth Sanders, who owes as much as $16,000 in delinquent taxes and water bills, according to city and county records obtained by Motor City Muckraker.

Former Detroit Historic District Commissioner Julie Long. Via Facebook.
Former Detroit Historic District Commissioner Julie Long. Via Facebook.

What’s more, it’s unclear whether the mayor even had the authority to remove Commissioner Long, who was among a narrow majority of commissioners expected to oppose the demolition of the historic Hotel Park Avenue. The city forbids the removal of commissioners without just cause, but the mayor’s administration told a shocked Long that the city possessed no documentation to prove she was sworn in for a third term in 2013, a statement that Long finds perplexing, if not suspicious.

“I clearly remember being sworn in. It definitely happened,” Long told us. “I have no idea how they lost the paperwork. I offered to come in and be sworn in again, but they chose to replace me with Mr. Sanders.”

Check out photos from inside the Hotel Park Avenue.

On Monday, a day before the scheduled demolition vote, the mayor forced another commissioner and preservationist, David Cartwright, off the commission after a curiously timed investigation by the administration discovered he lived outside of the city. He, too, supported preserving the 13-story building. He ultimately resigned under pressure.

Mayor Duggan
Mayor Duggan

Top members of Duggan’s administration also met privately with some of the remaining commissioners to encourage them to support the demolition. But after realizing Monday that the commission appeared to be deadlocked 2-2, the administration advised arena developer Olympia Development to postpone the meeting until there’s enough support. (Two commissioners have recused themselves because of financial ties to Ilitch.)

Despite sources from both sides confirming the background maneuvering, Mayor Duggan denies even having an opinion about the demolition.

“The mayor chooses to rely on the expertise of appointed boards,” mayoral spokesman John Roach told us.

On Monday evening, we decided to pay a visit to Sanders’ home and find out why he wanted to serve on the commission and why he wasn’t paying his taxes. At the door, he was cordial and invited us in for a drink.

Two suits of armor stood guard at the kitchen, where Sanders poured us a heavy glass of cabernet sauvignon. He poured himself a glass of Glenlivet Scotch whiskey from behind a well-stocked bar and led us to his library where we sat on plush chairs surrounded by hardcover books and lead glass windows.

When we asked what made him qualified for the Historic District Commission, he leaned back on his chair, took a swig from his whiskey and said, “Where are you? A historic house.”

Speaking of the house, which was adorned with original artwork and artifacts, we asked Sanders why he had fallen so far behind on his bills.

“It’s taken care of,” he said. “It’s no longer an issue.”

County records show Sanders narrowly avoided tax foreclosure this year by making a payment in April. As of last week, county records indicated that Sanders still owed nearly $15,000 in property taxes dating back to 2011. And as of Monday, the retired water official had an overdue water and sewage bill totaling $2,468.

The Historic District Commission hasn’t yet scheduled another meeting. It’s not yet clear whether the delays will postpone Olympia’s plans to open the arena in 2017.

Bryan Barnhill
Bryan Barnhill

Duggan’s Chief Talent Officer Bryan Barnhill II has been tasked with finding the next commissioner, who will require the approval of Detroit City Council.

If the Historic District Commission turns down the demolition, Olympia Development will have three options: Ask Duggan’s administration to issue an emergency demolition permit by showing the building is dangerous; appeal the decision to the State Historic Preservation Review Board; or restore the building.

In January, Duggan’s administration issued an emergency demolition order to Grosse Pointe Park after the Historic District Commission unanimously rejected the request.

 

 

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.

  • EDG

    So Illitch got to Duggan…just like Moroun

  • I think we’re all missing the point. The Arena and arena district should happen, and at the end of the day, if that takes knocking down a historic building that hasn’t been revitalized, most of you could live with that.

    At issue is the strong-arming. And forget about the arena. Think about issues that could actually affect you. If he’s willing to throw out a commissioner to have his way on this issue, it only follows that he’d be willing to do the same for multiple issues in the future.

    It’s easy to root for authoritarianism when it involves doing something that you think is appropriate. But you’re opening the door to authoritarianism acting against something that you support, or that you hold dear.

    Detroit may be rehabbing buildings, but an act like this smells like the Detroit that we keep telling everybody has come and gone.

    • muckraker_steve

      Very well said. So many people missed the point because they agree with the demo. No matter what your position is on demolition, Duggan lied repeatedly about what happened, and he’s been doing that since he’s become mayor. He micromanages everything. All he has to do is be honest about it. But he won’t be. And that – not the demo – is the problem.

    • Jan Mangin

      You have grasped the totality of this situation. The destruction of the buildings is secondary, how he went about it is the real issue

      • Jeff Keathley

        The building is still standing and the vote hasn’t even taken place yet. Let’s wait until it’s official before we start blaming the mayor. Honestly, the mayor has every right to do what he thinks is best for the city.

        • bebow

          Kwame thought he had every right, too.

  • Trexinmichigan

    Hey Steve,
    Please stay on this guys tax and water bill. If this is Duggan on top of his game, Detroit is not going to turn around.

  • Patrice

    I would rather see a new arena instead of an old decrepit building. If no one came forward to preserve the property, let it go and tear that ugly thing down.

    • Jeff Keathley

      They had almost 10 years to buy the building and preserve it but no one gave a damn. The only reason this is an issue still is because preservationists love nothing more than to grandstand and act important.

      • zinjanthropus

        The “They” is actually Ilitch. He has owned both buildings for several years and like many other buildings in downtown, he allows them to sit empty and crumbling, even when viable rennovation proposals are made and brought to him. Even when investors want to purchase and fix them up. Just like the Jadison-Lennox, just like the Metropolitan, Just like the Wurlitzer, Just like the Motown Hq, just like the Adams Theater.

        • Ronnie

          Who cares… the Ilitches are actually building something useful and cleaning up the Cass Corridor. Park Avenue has a vastly longer history of being a flop house than an actual hotel. On top of all that, they’re saving a nearly identical building (Eddysone) next door.

          • zinjanthropus

            Many many people care as do I that Illitch destroys more viable buildings than he creates and ruins entire neighborhoods while making the taxpayers of the city do the heavy work of paying for his asinine developments. Seriously, do your research. As far as “cleaning up cass corridor”; Cass corridor was cleaned up without any of illitch’s help.

            What’s the reason for razing this structure? oh right a loading dock.

  • Jan Mangin

    Too bad, I thought that the Mayor was a decent man, who only wanted the best for Detroit. It seem he is like anyother politician, cronies come first. What a shame, but it is “get what you want at any cost”.

    • Jeff Keathley

      He does want what’s best for Detroit and getting rid of a useless building and moving forward is best for the city. This project is huge for the city and some preservationist nut jobs are trying to hold it back for no other reason than grandstanding. They had almost ten years to buy it (the building sat vacant from 2003-2012) and do something with it. Guess what? No one cared all that time until Ilitch came up with the arena and entertainment district. The fact that he has agreed to redevelop the Eddystone should be more than enough, especially in an area that has been a total wasteland for more than 60 years.

      • muckraker_steve

        And that justifies yet another lie from his administration? I’ll bet you’d feel differently if he lied repeatedly about something you cared about. This has NOTHING to do with protecting a building. It has everything to do with a mayor lying repeatedly to the public because he believes he knows better than everyone else.

    • Stephen Paraski

      Forget where Duggan came from? How is DMC doing these days?

  • Rick DeBolt

    Lets move forward with the city of Detroit, I understand the situation of persevering the historical nature of the city but it’s time to move forward and build the city to preserve our future!!

    • karpodiem

      While Duggan’s strongarm is too much, the delays with this project are out of control. We have a city that has been crumbling for 40 years, and yet people are complaining about two buildings that have zero architectural or historical significance other than the fact they are old. Only in Detroit!

      There are many historical sites in Detroit worth saving – these two buildings should not be included among them.

      • muckraker_steve

        The delays actually are relatively short considering the amount of tax dollars involved. The city council caused a brief delay earlier this year because it wanted some agreements to be in writing. That’s the job of elected officials – to ensure tax dollars were spent properly. The Free Press wrote a convincing editorial on it.

        • karpodiem

          Steve, I understand where you’re coming from but I think we both would agree there is much lower hanging fruit in this city for them to fulfill their fiduciary responsibility with than these two buildings.

        • Jeff Keathley

          Unless you actually own property in the DDA zone for this project, your tax dollars are not being spent for this. I bet most of those people are pretty happy since the value of their homes will go through the roof because of this development.

          The public portion of the project is being backed by tax increment financing, or TIFs, a development tool that dates back to the 1950s in the U.S. TIFs traditionally work like this: A blighted area is declared a TIF district by the state legislature, and designated to a Downtown Development Authority. In this case it’s Detroit’s DDA, which is using TIFs to get money from the municipal bond markets, and then promising, against the state coffers, that the money will be paid back. And with the TIF, the money will be paid back, the theory is, because tax values will rise on the properties as they’re developed.

          • muckraker_steve

            I’m pretty sure everyone is familiar with that. But recouping those raised taxes becomes an entirely different issue depending on the length of time the DDAs can capture the taxes. And while we all appreciate you defending Duggan’s deception here, the DDA money is tax dollars that are captured. So it’s a little intellectually dishonest to say these aren’t tax dollar because that is exactly what they are.

      • shavers313

        Agree smh

    • bebow

      You’ve missed the point.

      • shavers313

        What point is that?

        • bebow

          The scummy operation is the point. Everything else is secondary in my opinion.

        • muckraker_steve

          You really don’t get the point??

          • shavers313

            Nope I don’t.

          • Jeff Keathley

            So why would the mayor go through all this trouble when even if the HDC votes against it, the developer could appeal the decision and the mayor or the state can overturn it? It feels like they want to put heat on the mayor and make him look bad. My point is…. delaying the inevitable and dragging it out is just grandstanding which doesn’t accomplish anything. The project has been approved, work has already started, it’s time to move on.

    • Jeff Keathley

      This is typical rag reporting by Steve Neavling. He got rejected by Gilbert and Bedrock after he tried to get back on their good side and now he has to take it out on the mayor.

      It’s time to move the city forward and stop living in the past.

      • muckraker_steve

        “Rag reporting” is revealing that the mayor repeatedly lied? Wow. Glad I don’t have your low expectations for public officials.

  • bebow

    There it is in the raw.