By Nancy Kotting
Wherever you find yourself at this moment, turn to the person nearest you and ask them this simple question: What are your top three favorite things about Detroit? Chances are the term ‘architecture’ will be included somewhere in their response. The architecture of Detroit is Detroit, literally. Elegant, ambitious, ragged, desolate, triumphant, our story as a city gets told through our buildings. Rubble to ramparts, fuck with our buildings, you’re fucking with us.
The Michigan Legislature agreed, and way back in 1970 passed Public Act 169, which gave us the tools we need to act quickly when developer dujour with a dozer threatens one of our historic structural sentries with annihilation. It also puts the legal muscle in place that provides us the opportunity to identify and protect, through the establishment of Historic Districts, both public and privately owned properties whose significance to our shared history requires rights all its own in the public realm.
Let us look at a current example: When a developer wants to remove one of his local monopoly pieces, PA 169 gives us the power to say NO, you may own it, but we own its history and our history matters and has rights. Now comes Mike Ilitch, who wants to exclude 3 historic structural citizens of Detroit from the proposed, protective Cass Park Historic District, allowed thanks to PA 169. These three buildings, the Alden Apartments, the Wil-Mar Garage and the Cole Building are located in Ilitch’s Arena District plans. Smart as we are, the City Council, with the Historic District Advisory Board running block, is holding ground this time against Arena Man and his plans though it is far from over. All possible because we figured this shit out way back in 1970.
But wait, what is this we hear? Why it’s none other than Republican state Rep. Afendoulis from District 73. Afendoulis has conveniently introduced House Bill 5232, which, if moved out of committee and to the floor for an affirmative vote, would rip the innards out of PA 169, rendering it open dozer & dynamite season on Detroit’s bricks and mortar, our life blood as a city.
If enacted, HB 5232 eliminates our greatest tool in halting impending demolition in the 11th hour. Here is the kicker, and why I believe Afendoulis is jamming this legislation through, relevant to the proposed Cass Park District, which threatens Ilitch’s right to demo the aforementioned three buildings; under HB 5232, creating the new Cass Park Historic District would require not only enactment by the City Council but a majority approval by vote in the next public election, a delay that would afford the Ilitch demolition team plenty of time. Isn’t it interesting that Ilitch has delayed the pending decision on the Cass Park District until February 11th ?
Being able to bulldoze now and explain later is apparently not enough. According to HB 5232, though renewal is possible, all existing protective Historic District designations in Michigan, including Corktown and the Belle Isle Historic District would evaporate in ten years, Kapoof!
In addition, any local legislative unit (city council) can eliminate any existing protective Historic District by writing and passing a new ordinance stating so, no explanation necessary, rendering the process purely political. Currently, such cannot be done without first meeting stringent, nationally recognized criteria.
HB 5232 would be culturally and economically devastating to Detroit and the State of Michigan. Tell Afendoulis just where he can stuff his Bill. Got a minute? Give him a call: 517-373-0218 or email him: [email protected]
Take action now:
For technical info go here:
HB 5232 and SB 720:
Nancy Kotting, M.S. Historic Preservation, is a fourth generation Detroiter, former partner at Detroit MetroTimes/Alternative Media Inc., trainer/instructor of classical horsemanship for over 35 years and an avid writer. She can be reached at: [email protected]