Preservationists to fight Ilitches’ plans to demolish century-old buildings

The vacant, four-story Atlanta Apartments at Cass just north of I-75. Photo by Steve Neavling.

The billionaire Ilitch family and their companies have raked in hundreds of millions of tax dollars while demolishing dozens of buildings – some of them historic – in Detroit since the 1980s.

Now preservationists and others are taking a stand.

At noon on Thursday, demonstrators are planning a rally and “group hug” outside of two century-old apartment and hotel buildings that soon could be demolished by the Ilitches’ Olympia Development of Michigan.

The buildings are on Cass Avenue just north of I-75 in the shadow of the new, tax-funded Pistons arena and entertainment district. Since 2014, Olympia and its affiliated companies have demolished more than a dozen buildings in the rapidly gentrifying Cass Corridor.

Preservationists said the vacant, four-story Atlanta Apartments and Hotel Ansonia are structurally sound and salvageable.

The four-story Hotel Ansonia. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Given Olympia’s history of destruction, and the increased demolition activity in the Cass Corridor this summer during the arena development, we feel it is best to mobilize to ensure our voices be heard before it is too late,” reads the Facebook event posting by Building Hugger. “Be prepared to be loud, make some noise, and show the Ilitches that they cannot benefit from the public coffers and actively (and illegally) destroy Detroit heritage against public opinion and the law!” 

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Demonstrators plan to give the buildings a “group hug” by joining hands around the adjacent structures.

Olympia planned to raze the buildings as early as next week and received a city permit to remove asbestos. But the company withdrew its request for a demolition permit after preservations urged City Council to designate the buildings as historic.

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Olympia issued a vague statement when asked about plans for the buildings.

Routine abatement is being conducted on numerous properties throughout The District Detroit as we continue to evaluate possibilities for future development,” said Olympia spokesman Ed Saenz.

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Dozens of contractors working on the arena have been fined nearly $3 million for failing to hire enough Detroiters.

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.