Unsolved arson of historic gem paved way for new Meijer store in Detroit

The University Club on E. Jefferson was heavily scrapped, burned, then demolished.

The vacant space where Meijer plans to build a grocery store on East Jefferson near downtown Detroit was the site of a suspicious, two-alarm fire that gutted the once-glamorous University Club four years ago.

The unsolved arson paved the way for the property owner, Jeffriv LLC, operated by Albert Ammori, to demolish the three-story, Collegiate Gothic building across the street from a liquor store he owns. Ammori bought the historic building for $600,000 in April 2010 and then neglected the architectural gem, leaving it open to scrappers, vandals and extreme weather.

Five months after the June 2013 fire, Ammori demolished the building’s remains and put the property up for sale.

On Thursday, Mayor Duggan announced Meijer planned to build its third grocery store in Detroit. The $60 million development, which includes apartments, was put together by one of the mayor’s top sources for campaign donations – Dennis Archer Jr., a principal of East Jefferson Development and the son of former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer. He and his company, Ignition Media Group, donated $14,000 to Duggan’s Detroit Progress Fund.

Archer’s father held a fundraiser for Duggan at the former mayor’s home in Palmer Park, where 29 guests donated a combined $49,240. Archer’s law firm, Dickinson Wright, also held a fundraiser at the company’s office in downtown Detroit, raising $10,850. A total of 115 employees of Dickinson Wright donated to Duggan’s campaign.

The University Club was built in 1931 and served as a social institution for college graduates, who smoked cigars in the medieval-inspired dining hall. They relaxed on plush armchairs in the pristine library, played squash and took a dip in the indoor swimming pool.

It was, no doubt, one of most elegant clubs in Detroit.

The University Club went bankrupt in 1992, and the YWCA took over the building until 2008, when maintenance costs became unsustainable.

According to the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office, Ammori owed more than $75,000 in delinquent property taxes.

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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.