It’s an odd position for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan: He may not get his way.
Nearly a month after we revealed that Mayor Duggan was trying to hijack the Historic District Commission with pro-developers, the board is expected to vote today on whether to approve demolition of the 91-year-old Hotel Park Avenue to make way for a loading dock for the new Red Wings arena.
Since our story was published, the City Council has accused the mayor of violating the law by failing to place preservation supporters on the board. Duggan also removed an award-winning preservationist from the board and replaced her with a former water employee and campaign supporter, Kenneth Sanders, who acknowledged in an interview that he’s no preservationist.
Sanders also plans to support the demolition tonight.
Despite the intense back-room maneuvering, Duggan has denied playing a role, just as he did when he convinced the city to approve an emergency demolition order for the historic Deck Bar, according to officials in both Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park.
Today, his administration is not answering questions about the mayor’s role, even after he got members of his executive team a few week ago to insist to the media that neither they nor the mayor were involved with the demolition vote. The obvious deception led to a rare criticism from the Free Press in a column entitled, “Is Duggan bringing backroom dealings back to Detroit?” In the column, the mayor’s economic development chief, Tom Lewand, lied repeatedly to the writer, Nancy Kaffer, about the role that he and Duggan played in removing Historic District Commission members and lobbying the remaining ones to support demolition.
The administration also lied to The Detroit News this morning for a story on the demo, repeating the assertion that the executive team was not involved.
But the News also showed skepticism, quoting HDC board member Lauren Hood, who said she “lost a little bit of faith in the process” because of the maneuvering.
Duggan’s office declined to make Lewand available for comment or say whether the administration was still trying to lobby the HDC.
Lewand is a long-time Democratic operative and lobbyist. His daughter is one of the top-paid employees of the Detroit Land Bank.
Presevation Detroit lists nine reasons to save the building.
The Historic District Commission meets at 5:30 p.m. at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. The meeting is open to the public.
Unless a board member changes his or her mind, the vote on approving demolition is expected to be 2-2, which would mean the Red Wings can’t raze the building. Two HDC members plan to abstain because they have a potential conflict of interest.
The seventh member was not approved by the City Council because of serious questions about whether Mayor Duggan broke the law with his most recent appointments to the board.
If the HDC denies demolition, the decision can be appealed to the State Historic Preservation Review Board. Here is the process as laid out by the state.
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.