|By John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 8, 204 - Another Detroit landmark appears about to fall.
After years of trying to find a renovation plan for the vacant Statler-Hilton Hotel, the City of Detroit is moving to demolish the structure.
Wednesday, the city's Historic District Commission, which oversees landmark buildings, will consider a city request to tear down the Statler, which the city owns. An elegant but dilapidated 18-story structure, the Statler fronts on Grand Circus Park not far from the Fox Theatre, Comerica Park and Ford Field.
The move toward demolition is part of the city's aggressive efforts to clean up downtown in time for the National Football League's Super Bowl XL, to be played at Ford Field on Feb. 5, 2006.
Built in 1914, the Statler stood for decades as one of Detroit's fine hotels. But the city's economic twilight after the last half-century deprived the Statler of its clientele, and the building has been closed since 1975.
George Jackson, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., a quasi-public financing arm of the city, said all renovation proposals offered for the building would require massive public subsidies.
"We've bent over backwards in regards to trying to find a developer, and we've been open to all comers who have had proposals for the building," he said. "But the gap is just totally insurmountable."
Preservationists acknowledge that the city tried repeatedly to find someone to take on the Statler. Even so, many preservationists oppose demolition.
Michael Poris, a Birmingham-based architect who has worked with potential developers on the Statler, said the city should mothball the building longer. Eventually, rising property values downtown would make a renovation feasible, he contended.
"Apparently the city's made this decision that it's better to have it gone for the Super Bowl than not," Poris said. "I don't agree with that. An empty lot's going to look pretty bad. I'm not quite sure what you gain by tearing it down."
If the commission approves the city's request for demolition, the Statler could fall within months. If the commission rejects the idea, as it recently rejected a request to demolish the Madison-Lenox Hotel not far from the Statler, the city could appeal to Michigan authorities or go to court to win approval.
Built in 1914, the hotel was designed by architect George B. Post in a stately neo-Georgian style. It originally held 800 rooms.
The Statler, like the now-gone Hudson's building and other vanished landmarks, appears doomed because of a yawning financing gap in any renovation plan. The amount of money a downtown project like the Statler can generate at today's property values doesn't cover the cost of renovations.
Various tax credits and other subsidies exist to help plug that gap, and virtually all downtown renovation projects depend heavily on those.
But with the Statler, Jackson estimated the budget gap might reach $40 million out of a total cost ranging from $70 million to $100 million. "That gap is not going to shrink with time," he said. "And we couldn't fill it with our resources."
Clearly the prospect of 100,000 or more visitors for Super Bowl XL pushed the city toward a decision. The Statler is among the most prominent of so-called dinosaur buildings the city determined last year either must be renovated or demolished.
Jackson said a lot of developers have expressed interest in building a new residential tower on the Statler site. That interest also pushed the city toward demolition. "Do we want it down before the Super Bowl? Yes, because it's an eyesore," he said. "But also people want to do development downtown in that area."
But no immediate replacement exists for the Statler, and preservationists warn that without something new, the site could sit empty for years to come.
As a cautionary tale, Poris recalls the old Tuller Hotel, which stood next to the Statler. It was demolished by the city in 1991, and in the 13 years since, nothing has risen to take its place.
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(c) 2004, Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.