Redevelopment, retail and radio rants

Aug 2, 2000 at 12:00 am


The Telenews Theater on Woodward just south of Grand Circus Park is readying itself to reopen as a new nightclub, tentatively entitled the “Bleu Room Experience” (whooo, it’s an “experience”).

The Telenews is notable for its classic art deco, streamlined facade, but its nondescript interior is more befitting of its humble origins. Originally built for showing newsreels and broadcasting live radio, it was an art house theater in the ’50s. More recently, its entryway has doubled as an impromptu urinal for downtown denizens in search of quick relief.

At the helm of the new venture are novice nightclub impresarios Tom Patton and Jeff Moran. They’re shooting for a South Beach vibe, with leather-wrapped booths and a polished cherry dance floor. The upper balcony will be a VIP lounge, and the 50-foot wall behind the main bar will have recessed spaces for three dancers, as well as a giant video wall. Look for Bleu to open sometime in mid-November or December.

With the Pure barroom just down the street, and the Post Bistro taking shape around the corner, it appears that this semiabandoned strip of downtown may become a miniature entertainment central.

In addition, the long-rumored sushi bar known as Oslo, at Grand River and Woodward, has seen some tremors of activity as of late, with electricians working inside the gutted interior and a fresh coat of paint on the outside plywood facade.

All of this is, no doubt, a good thing, since downtown office vacancies are on the upswing, notwithstanding the hazy way-off-in-the-future Compuware HQ, which begins to look even hazier with each quarterly earnings report.

It appears downtown Detroit is content to follow the Royal Oak blueprint for entertainment success, i.e., forget retail (unless Finley, Feiger, Sharpton & Co. can browbeat Lord & Taylor into opening up a store), get some restaurants and nightclubs, and jack up the rents.

As it turns out, Detroit has a good foundation to emulate Royal Oak: it already has greedy landlords content to sit on vacant, shuttered buildings and demand excessive, exorbitant rents.


Speaking of Royal Oak retail (or lack thereof), Patti Smith finally closed its doors with a wingding on Friday night (which ran until around 4:30 a.m. on Saturday), bringing to a close a Royal Oak tradition, and bringing to the fore the argument over the dwindling retail presence in Royal Oak.

Among the throngs were Dan Augustine of W-Vibe and Clark Bernstein of Woodward Avenue Brewery. Also captured for posterity was former Patti Smith sales associate Rebecca Hilton and British-car mechanic Stuart Rigler.

Although the boys at Pronto will point across the street to their thriving gift basket biz when arguing that Royal Oak retail is not dead, the empty storefronts downtown scream otherwise (in addition, methinks that one thriving gift basket store doth not a retail district make). Moreover, the number of stores which have merely changed places in Royal Oak, as opposed to actual new businesses, is a startling shell-game state of affairs.


For those who haven’t noticed, Loose Lips’ weekly stint on the Planet 96.3 FM morning show has unceremoniously come to an end, for reasons possibly involving the confluence of: (a) the expiration of our 6-month contract; (b) my unflattering on-air comments about advertisers; and/or (c) the fact that I was, frankly, a babbling brook of irksome, irritating and irrelevant fringe humor and uninteresting gossip … but when’s that ever stopped a morning show?

In the interests of full disclosure and to defuse any accusations of sour grapes, I would note that while I often enjoyed my weekly appearances on the always-jaunty Johnny in the Morning show, rest assured I harbor no ill will toward the loss of what was, essentially, a third job in the course of a busy weekday.

In any event, I think it’s high time to comment on the station’s not-so-subtle programming shift (or drift, as it were). Specifically, it appears that the somewhat promising (at least in high concept) format of “alternative classics” has quietly, and without much fanfare, eroded under a steady diet of the homogenized modern rock dreck which so permeates the current contemporary music scene. (See, e.g., prevalent Planet playlist stalwarts such as Live, Collective Soul, Third Eye Deaf and, urp, Matchbox 20.)

Operating under the shape-shifting hit-responsive rubric of “future alternative classics,” the station has gradually bid adieu to former program director Garrett Michael’s formatting brainchild. Apparently, it was not exactly a ratings boom, proving once again that, in the Detroit radio market, mediocrity sells.

According to music director Ann Delisi, “with the alternative classics format came a steady ratings decline, along with complaints of no new music and the same old ’80s songs. To avoid a total format change (such as going country), it was decided to give people more of what they were asking us for and to try and reach more people.”

Hope Captain Tom O’Brien and First Mate Delisi will right that “alternative” ship before Disney’s big white whale swallows it up whole and spits out (gulp) country. Although I would like to see Johnny in a ten-gallon hat … yee-haw!


In the “Outta my Wednesday @#$# Mind Department,” let’s hand it to the Detroit News, which, in what appears to be a supernatural scoop nonpareil, has appointed former Freepie Neal Rubin to pen a folksy, sappy and, at times, maudlin people-about-town column, in the process ably channeling the spirit of the late Bob Talbert.

Uncanny. Somebody get publisher Mark Silverman on the blower. Whoever headed up that seance deserves a raise, but pronto.

If Rubin-Talbert starts talking about South Carolina, biscuits and the first time he met Joe DiMaggio, I’m calling an exorcist. You too?

Casey Coston writes about development in Detroit. E-mail him at [email protected]