Detroit seeks to demolish Kahn-designed Park Avenue Building



Detroit appears to be keeping its promise to go after owners of blighted commercial buildings: City officials have set their sight on the Albert Kahn-designed historic Park Avenue Building, The Detroit News reports. The 12-story building at West Adams and Park avenues has been empty for about 15 years. 

The city described the building in a court filing as "the very definition of irreparable harm to the public," the News' Louis Aguilar reports.

The lawsuit follows a hearing last month between the city and real estate owner Anthony Pieroni, who controls the 5,800-square-foot former AAA building, the only structure that remains on the historic Statler Hotel site. 

As Metro Times reported, in that case, Wayne Count Circuit Court Judge Robert Colombo agreed with the city, and ordered Pieroni to demolish the building no later than today. Pieroni filed an appeal to the State Court of Appeals, and asked for Colombo's ruling to be stayed, but that decision remains pending. If the appellate court upholds the decision, the demolition of Pieroni's structure would facilitate a proposed $40 million development on the site of the Statler, which was demolished in 2005. 

In a statement to Metro Times, Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin "Butch" Hollowell said the city was preparing to launch an aggressive campaign against owners of blighted commercial properties.

"Our objective is not to obtain the title to these properties, but to have these dangerous eyesores demolished at the owners' expense," Hollowell said in the statement. "Very often, these owners have sat on these structures for years, accepting no responsibility for negligence. Those days are over. There is no right to blight."

At this point, whether that campaign will branch out citywide is unclear, but the lawsuit against Park Avenue Building owner Ralph Sachs suggests the city is, at the very least, intent on keeping true to their word with regards to downtown properties.

Amy Elliott Bragg, president of the board at Preservation Detroit, agrees building owners should be held accountable for the upkeep of their properties, but says the demolition-centric strategy ought to be reconsidered in the case of the Park Avenue Building.

Negligent building owners in the past have turned to the city for assistance in demolishing their structures, she said. Tearing down a structure that could potentially be redeveloped through legal means, more or less, validates those actions, she said.

"We would really like to see stop rewarding that kind of behavior," Elliott Bragg said. The market is ripe for rehab and redevelopment, she points out, such as the Briggs House Residence project next door to the Park Avenue Building. The better course of action for the city would "be to step up code enforcement" to make it harder for owners to let a building deteriorate, she said. 

Sachs will meet the city in court Sept. 19, the News reports. The block on which the Park Avenue Building sits is slated to become a "fresh modern neighborhood, anchored by a new public green space" as part of the proposed $650 million new Detroit Red Wings arena district, the News reports.

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