House of cards

May 25, 2005 at 12:00 am

With legal obstacles finally cleared for Detroit’s three casinos to begin construction of permanent facilities, there’s a follow-up question we think is pertinent: What’s to become of the temporary sites?

Much to our chagrin, when it comes to two of the casinos, no one seems to have an answer.

Will empty hulks be a dark lining to the silver billows of permanent casinos?

An injunction barring construction of permanent casinos was issued as part of a 1997 lawsuit filed by the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. The tribe claimed that the process used to select Detroit’s three casino operators way back in 1996 was unconstitutional. You’d think that having a former Michigan Supreme Court justice as mayor at the time (you remember a guy named Dennis Archer, don’t you?) would have helped Detroit avoid that kind of snafu. But, alas, no.

Operators of the Greektown and Motor City casinos reached a settlement with the tribe, with each agreeing to pay out $39.5 million over 25 years, according to published reports. Greektown Casino founders Ted Gatzaros and Jim Papas agreed to cough up an additional $15 million. In late April, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed claims against MGM Grand Detroit Casino.

With that action, and the tribe’s subsequent announcement it would not appeal the decision, the path to constructing permanent casinos opened wide.

Motor City Casino, located at the junction of Grand River Avenue and the Lodge Freeway on the city’s West Side, will stay where it is.

Greektown and the MGM Grand, however, are building elsewhere, leaving the potential for two more huge, vacant buildings in downtown Detroit.

Mayoral spokesman James Canning says there’s nothing in the city’s deal with the casinos requiring the groups to do anything with buildings after the permanent sites are built. Canning says the city plans to help the owners determine an appropriate use for the vacated buildings, but didn’t offer any clues to what that use might be.

If the casino operators do have plans for the temporary structures, they’re not talking.

MGM Grand spokesman Bob Berg says the disposition of the temporary building is still far in the future.

“Until you get out of the building, you can’t plan what to do with it,” Berg says.

News Hits doesn’t quite grasp the logic of that, but then there’s a lot that this crew doesn’t grasp. We can tell you that, if what Berg says is true, it’s going to be a long while before there’s any announcement concerning reuse.

“Even after we break ground it’ll be two years till we’re done,” Berg says.

Roger Martin, spokesman for Greektown Casino, says he can’t talk about any plans for the permanent or temporary casino building until the board of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians, 90 percent owners of the Greektown Casino, reviews the plans for the new building, which date from 2003. There isn’t even a projected opening date for the new casino, which will be located at Gratiot and I-375.

All three temporary casinos are good examples of adaptive reuse, says Robin Boyle of Wayne State University’s College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs. Motor City Casino was originally a massive bakery, Boyle says, and MGM Grand was a tax office. The Greektown building — part of which was formerly known as Trappers Alley — has a history of mixed use, Boyle says, with everything from shopping to entertainment.

City real estate taxes on Greektown’s temporary casino, on Lafayette between Beaubien and St. Antoine, were $3.3 million in 2004. The MGM Grand paid $1.7 million in property taxes last year. So emptiness carries a price.

But it wouldn’t be the first time big business in these parts has pulled out, leaving a large, unused facility to gather dust, dirt and crack heads.

Berg, who’s also a consultant to Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, says he expects MGM to be “sensitive” to abandonment concerns.

Well. News Hits doesn’t know about you, gentle readers, but that certainly sets our minds at rest.

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