The ceilings and floors are rotted. Toilets are missing, and sinks are filled with muck. The question “IS THIS LIFE?” is spray painted on one side of the building.
Welcome to the Blackstone Hotel, a historic hangout for pimps, hookers and druggies on the north edge of Cass Corridor near Wayne State Univesity.
But one person’s rat trap is another’s Home Sweet Home, and that’s just the problem.
Scott Lowell, owner of Traffic Jam & Snug Restaurant, located a block from the Blackstone, spent a year clearing titles dating to 1962 and bought the property Oct. 3. He plans to spend at least $225,000 to turn the 46 sleeping rooms into 15 one-bedroom apartments, to rent for around $550. When Lowell told residents to be out by Oct. 5, “all hell broke loose,” Lowell said. He extended the get-out date 30 days, but had to shorten it to Nov. 1 after a city inspection report found numerous hazards that Lowell says prevent him from turning on the heat. Lowell is evicting 26 residents, and said that on Nov. 14 he will seek a court-ordered emergency eviction, before the winter freeze. “I’ve always wanted a crack hotel,” Lowell joked. “It’s a hellhole right now. The electrical system looks like spaghetti. We’re going to gut it,” he said, adding, “We’ve always had a problem with the people there.” Many neighbors support what Lowell is doing, as the Blackstone is the most visible holdover of the neighborhood’s rough history. But others, including Southfield-based FOX 2 Problem Solvers, are concerned about the Blackstone’s daily and weekly renters.
FOX 2 (WJBK-TV)’s coverage of the evictions has left Lowell and some neighbors outraged (prompting the egg-throwing scuffle outlined in a story appearing in this week's issue). “I don’t feel like they’re giving me a fair shake,” Lowell said of the station. “I joke about it, because it hurts. But when people hear my name, I don’t want them to think I’m just an asshole who’s kicking out a bunch of poor folks. I work hard for my reputation of integrity and honesty.” FOX 2 was not available for comment, and an attempt to interview residents of the Blackstone was unsuccessful. But a local outlined his thoughts on the matter. “The building isn’t up to date. It might be good for the community to have it fixed up. A lot of the people who live there, they can’t take care of themselves,” said Carl Jones, 38, as he sunned himself and drank cups of beer on a curb. “But this won’t help the people staying there now. Where will they go?”Lisa M. Collins contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org