by Ryan Felton
[W]hen Hudson's opened Northland, the nation's first suburban shopping center, downtown sales began to fall. In 1970, sales had dropped to $99 million; in 1975, they were down to $75 million. By 1981, sales were $45 million.After sitting dormant for 16 years, a decision was made to implode the department store, a rather unfortunate move considering efforts in recent years to revive a glut of previously under-used historic structures in downtown Detroit.
The growing number of suburban malls — including Northland, Eastland and the Fairlane Town Center — gradually lured away potential downtown customers and helped spur the decline of the landmark store.
The malls also contributed to the demise of Hudson's largest competitors. The Kern department store closed in 1959, and the downtown Crowley's store folded in 1977.
The drain of people and money from the city had similar effects on other retailers. From 1958 to 1972 Detroit lost 7,200 retail businesses — 42 percent — and 32,000 jobs, according to a 1980 study for the Cadillac Center — a proposed shopping center on the site of the Hudson's store.
But as late as November, Larry Marantette, the former ANR Pipeline executive who runs the Partnership's daily operations as its president, told the Metro Times that viable plans to renovate the building would still be considered. Preservationist groups were being told the same thing.
But when a developer with a proven track record for transforming broken-down historic buildings into trendy apartments, offices and shops did come knocking, the brush off was quick and decisive. The Partnership wasn't interested. And when that same developer — Randy Alexander of Madison, Wis.— persisted by taking his case to the City Council, the Partnership flexed its considerable muscle for the first time.
After listening to Alexander's pitch, the council began expressing reservations. There was no plan to replace Hudson's. Did the city want to create a gaping hole in the heart of downtown without knowing what, if anything, would replace it?
In public the Partnership's Marantette worked in concert with Beth DunCombe, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and the de facto operations chief of the city's Downtown Development Authority. They did their best to shoot down Alexander's proposal. Appearing before the council, they said Alexander's plan wasn't feasible, would cost more than he said, that the public subsidy would be higher than he claimed.
Unswayed, the council called for a public hearing.
Then the Partnership began maneuvering. Marantette met behind closed doors with seven of the nine council members. What he said isn't known exactly: reports vary, with council members saying he did everything from outline broad, vague plans for the lower Woodward corridor to name specific developers interested in the site.
Whatever he said was effective. Less than a week later, with no advance notice, the council suddenly made a 180-degree shift and voted to tear the building down.