Wrecking-ball blues

Following the controversial demolition of the Madison-Lenox Hotel earlier this summer, local preservationists are worried that Detroit’s Fine Arts Building and the United Artists Building may also be coming down soon. An $8 million state allocation for pre-Super Bowl demolition is only adding to their anxiety.

At this point, there’s no hard evidence that either the Fine Arts or UA buildings are slated for demolition, but preservationists say there wasn’t any indication that the Madison-Lenox had a date with a wrecking crew before it disappeared.

Here’s how it worked with the M-L: the Historic District Commission had denied repeated requests by the Ilitch Holdings (you know — Little Caesars, the Tigers, Red Wings, Fox Theatre, etc.) owner of the building, for permission to demolish the hotel, which was admittedly in dubious condition. An Ilitch appeal to the state Historic Preservation Review Board was pending when the demolition began on May 18. Detroit Building & Safety Engineering Director Amru Meah had declared the building an immediate hazard and dispatched the wrecking crew, circumventing all the historical types.

The fact that the Ilitch family also owns the United Artists and the Fine Arts buildings has heightened preservationists’ fears. Those concerned aren’t just wild conspiracy theorists — that $8 million state allocation makes concerns that some downtown buildings will be gone before the big game more believable.

Neither Fine Arts, located in Grand Circus Park, nor the United Artists Building, at 150 Bagley, is in great shape, but local experts say that both are capable of being renovated.

Doug McIntosh, a Birmingham architect with extensive planning and development experience, says the United Artists building, made famous in recent years by the colorful graffiti in its windows, looks like it’s in worse condition than it is.

“The bricks have fallen off a portion of it. Anyone who walked past would think the building was falling down, but that’s just the building’s skin,” McIntosh says. Despite its deteriorating facade, McIntosh says the UA Building is structurally sound and is a prime candidate for adaptive reuse.

“But the owner has to have interest in doing so,” McIntosh says. How much interest does McIntosh think the Ilitch family has in redeveloping the United Artists Building?

“None whatsoever.”

Rehabilitating the Fine Arts Building would take as much as $20 million and the UA as much as $30 million, estimates Francis Grunow of Preservation Wayne.

Ilitch Holdings didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

News Hits’ advice? Keep your eye on the wrecking ball.

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