Retail detail

Jul 9, 2003 at 12:00 am

Roughly a year after they rallied to protest the imminent demolition of their community mini-mall, residents of the Lafayette Park neighborhood near downtown are claiming a relative victory.

True, merchants who faced eviction won only delays and have moved elsewhere (Sala Thai, for instance) or closed (Richard’s Drugs); developers anticipate the remaining Lafayette Market and Paris Café coffee shop leaving soon.

But the plan to raze the mall for 90 condos and what residents derided as a token retail strip has been drastically revised. The new plan calls for just 30 condos, demolition of a two-story office-retail building, and the renovation of the remaining mall space, about 45,000 square feet, much of which had fallen into disuse over the years. The renovation plan — projected to cost $3.3 million — got the nod last week from the city’s Historic District Commission.

Last year, residents convinced the city to establish a Lafayette Park-Mies van der Rohe Historic District, recognizing the social and architectural importance of the ambitious urban renewal project that dates to the 1950s. The mini-mall wasn’t designed by the world-renowned Mies van der Rohe — as some of the park’s townhouses and apartment buildings were — but activists made the case that a community retail area was integral to his overall vision.

“We’re going to really move forward,” said Evelyn Johnston, one of the community protesters of a year ago who praised the outcome of last week’s commission meeting.

And although there are additional hurdles to clear for the development deal, William Watch, president of Southfield-based First Commercial Realty and Development, says the mall could be open for new tenants by next January.

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