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Lafayette lowdown

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“This center will remain open open open,” shouts the sign, 20-odd feet long, in the window of the Lafayette Park Market in the embattled downtown Detroit shopping center of the same name.

But four months after mall tenants, neighbors and a couple politicos rallied at the mall to fight the imminent evictions of the shops and offices housed there, the situation is murky. One shop is set to close, others are scouting alternate locations. At least two — the market and Paris Café — are fighting to stay.

The mall owner, Chicago-based Habitat Co., remains mum on long-term plans for the center on Lafayette near St. Aubin. (Calls from Metro Times were not returned.) Rather than press tenants to leave immediately, Habitat is letting them stay rent-free through May; in exchange, some tenants are dropping lawsuits against the company.

For neighbors in Lafayette Park and Elmwood Park, what’s at stake is a pioneering urban renewal project created to compete with the suburbs in the early ’60s. The centerpiece apartments and townhouses near the shopping center were designed by famed architect Mies van der Rohe, who made the retail center integral to his plan.

“Everyone is real concerned; they feel a little hurt that the neighborhood is changing,” said Richard Schiff, who began stocking shelves as a teen when his late father moved Richard’s Drugs to the new development 40 years ago — after roughly 35 years on Jefferson. Schiff inherited the store from his dad, but he now plans to close it on Dec. 26. This Saturday, Dec. 14, the Riverfront East Alliance (REAL) wants folks to drop by Richard’s to show appreciation for a neighborhood institution.

REAL and others still hope to salvage some retail at the center. For one thing, they believe the temporary historic designation the city granted Lafayette Park gives them clout, since it makes demolition difficult and gives incentives for historic renovations.

So after saying thanks at Richard’s, they want neighbors to gather at the mall’s Sala Thai at 2 p.m. on Saturday to plan their next moves.

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