The downtown J.L. Hudson's building a once-grand symbol of Detroit's prosperity that in later years represented its decay is finally marked for demolition.
Responding to intense lobbying from the mayor's office and the building's owner, Greater Downtown Partnership Inc., the Detroit City Council voted 7-2 on Wednesday to clear the way for the demolition of the abandoned structure.
The 25-story building remembered for its Christmas window displays and its magnificent toy department had been transformed from a world-class shopping destination to a huge hulk.
"Hudson's symbolizes something very real to the people of the city of Detroit," said Freman Hendrix, chief of staff to Mayor Dennis Archer "But the last 10 to 15 years, it has been a hulk that was just there, an albatross that deterred development.
"This is the signal of downtown Detroit's redevelopment era. People are going to sigh a big sigh of relief when they know that this building is coming down."
Administration officials said the demolition will clear the way for growth in the Woodward corridor.
Many developers had been reluctant to invest in the area stretching from the old Kern block to Grand Circus Park because they viewed the Hudson's building as an eyesore.
A variety of developers have expressed an interest in that area, including the Hudson's site, for office, retail and possibly residential development, city officials said.
City officials also are eager to build office space to accommodate tenants who will be displaced by General Motors' move into the Renaissance Center.
"Once it comes down, the whole block will be usable," said Chuck Mady of Exclusive Realty, which owns and leases dozens of buildings in Detroit. "There's nothing you can do with that building, nothing's salvageable, so it needs to come down."
But the move surprised some who had believed a decision on the building would be delayed until June, when the council had scheduled a public hearing.
They had hoped the massive store with its chandeliered ceilings and elaborate fixtures might have another chance at life.
"Our concern is that the council made a commitment to a public hearing in June and passed a resolution requiring that the City Planning Commission and the Historic Advisory Designation Board be an integral part of downtown planning and has reneged on that," said Kathy Wendler, a city planning commissioner and preservationist. "So we're surprised that this very important decision and expenditure of public funds was made without any public presentation."
A number of developers had stepped forward, as recently as last month, with plans to revamp the building. But city officials said the most recent proposal, one to turn it into lofts and offices, wasn't financially feasible.
Atwater Entertainment offered to pay the estimated $15 million it would cost to tear down the building if it could use the land for a casino.
But city officials said the land will be saved for office and retail space though they said no developer is lined up for the site.
Tearing down Hudson's without a developer in place "makes no sense," said Ray Parker, head of RFP Associates in Detroit.
"It serves absolutely no purpose to bring down Hudson's right now," Parker said. "There are better ways to spend $15 million."
Parker said the site is ripe for retail or residential use, but said until a developer is in hand, the city shouldn't raze the building. Like many opponents of the demolition, he fears that the city will wind up with another unsightly piece of vacant land.
The council action surprised and confused even its top advisers, many of whom had no idea the vote was coming up. Late last week, the body voted to hold the public hearing on the demolition.
But the vote spurred the mayor's lobbying machine into action. Administration officials persuaded council members to revoke the plans for the hearing in an effort to speed the process.
With the approval in hand, Greater Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit group that bought the building, will turn to the task of soliciting bids for tearing it down.
The decaying building had changed ownership several times in past years and has been stripped of its metal fixtures and sprinkler system. Barring any legal challenge, the demolition will move forward.
Administration officials said they could not think of any possible legal challenge to the razing. The store is not on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
The demolition process could take up to two years, according to John Adamo Jr., vice president of Detroit-based Adamo Demolition Co.
As demolition difficulty goes, "On a scale of 1 to 10 Hudson's is a 10," he said.
Business Writer Deborah Solomon contributed to this report.
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