Here we go again.
Yet another Detroit developer with ideas rooted in the 1980s is trying to bring down another great, old building that has been part of the fabric of the city.
The latest is the news that the first Detroit Saturday Night Building at 550 Fort that has a target on it to be demolished by the same folks who own the Fort Shelby Hotel. There’s a petition online to save the building built in 1911 by Preservation Detroit.
The Historic District Commission has a meeting about it on December 13, but since the building isn’t located in a historic district, the vote would be a suggestion and not binding.
Following the paper trail, Emmett Moten, Jr. looks to be the owner of the building in question and the surface parking lot next door. Also, importantly, he’s the orchestrator of the nearby Fort Shelby hotel that received a huge bucket of incentives to be built.
He’s also very connected in town with roots going back to Mayor Coleman Young, serving as his director of community and economic development from through most of the 80s. He was one of the folks behind the development of the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck (we happen to have a clip of a resident back then cursing his name in our podcast on the subject).
Some say he was instrumental in bringing the Ilitch empire downtown for the Fox Theatre deal, too. Moten is now in the private sector and involved in their District Detroit projects, too.
He has access to people and capital, so here’s what’s perplexing about this move. Detroit real estate is in demand. Talking to multiple real estate sources over the last year, it’s stuff with character and age that people moving downtown really want. And we really don’t have much of it left.
In Detroit, we’ve decimated our downtown and our community fabric in a quest for the tin holy grail of suburbanite sportsball traffic and easy parking. Now, I love the sportsball as much as anyone, but there’s no reason as a major city we can’t have both a neighborhood and attractions.
Except lack of vision.
The market has changed. Folks like Dan Gilbert and The Platform have proven that it can be done, and done well.
I’ve been here long enough to remember the series broken grand promises and seemingly forever empty buildings.
And yes, it’s great the the Fort Shelby was renovated. But that was 10 years ago. That doesn’t give you a free pass forever.
Just walk around the block of the Shinola Hotel and you’ll see what I mean. There was a surface parking lot filled with a beautiful, new building and historic rehabilitation around the entire block. The Madison block next door, too. There are plenty of examples.
And if the hotel needs more parking (that’s going to be my educated assumption knowing the ownership connection), there are plenty of ways to incorporate old and new. And a surface parking lot is the least, worst best use of land in a major city.
Just like we should have affordable opportunities to keep long-term residents in the city, we should have development that keeps the long-term character of our city.
Maybe I’ll hit Warby Parker on the way home and buy Mr. Moten a new set of glasses to help him have a little better vision.