As a teen growing up in Plymouth, Shawn Santo didn't pay much attention to downtown Detroit. It wasn't until 1990, when she enrolled in an art history class at Wayne State University, that the spark ignited.
"I started exploring the city the churches, the little pockets in town. I was so amazed by all of the options that were so opposite my suburban experience where it's a faceless placelessness of strip malls and Blockbusters and monotone-style homes."
Since 1995, when she produced her first issue of the Left Bank magazine in the downtown loft that is her home and office, Santo has been on a mission to enlighten people about the urban experience which she believes is as electric in Detroit as in any other major city in the United States.
But she worries that development plans for the city are too narrowly focused on entertainment and on those she calls "secondary users: people who just come into the city and patronize a bar, sporting event, casino and then leave." Santo wants Detroit to become a vital, 4-hour, world-clas city, one that balances living, working and playing and mixes historic buildings with new ones.
That's why she along with a growing group of architects, attorneys and community activitis believes it's time to rethink demolishing the Hudson's building, which the City Council voted to do earlier this year. Since then, crews have been prepping the former downtown department store for demolition-stripping it of asbestos and other hazards.
From the bay window in her loft, Santo sees the building that has sat empty for 14 years not as a symbol of Detroit's decay but as one of its rebirth. Even as the Detroit Historical Museum prepares to open its "Remembering Downtown Hudson's" exhibit next week, Santo is not giving up.
She has joined forces with urban planner James Nicita of Detroit's Victor Development, the Lower Woodward Housing Coalition, Hudson's Redevelopment Committee, CityScape Detroit and Preservation Wayne in a last-ditch effort to stop demotion. Thus far, plans for redeveloping the site are unknown, and repeated calls to the nonprofit group that owns the building, the Greater Downtown Partnership Inc., were not returned.
Last month, Santo and Nicita submitted a request to the Environmental Protection Agency to have the site put on the historic preservation list.
What are you hoping to do with
Actually, we finally got our letter back form the EPA, and they said the passed the buck along to the City of Detroit. We hoped it would be an injunction to prevent demolition, but now it's just passing the buck.
The building right now is physically in better condition or poised for a developer that it's been. (Because of the asbestos removal that was required by the Environmental Protection Agency before demolition.)
The Greater Downtown Partnership has done a wonderful service by clearing the title and starting enviromental remediation. So it's actually almost to the point of perfect preparation for a developer.What do you see the building becoming?
Certainly the building would serve as a catalyst for the whole Woodward Corridor. It would spark rehab projects by the owners, who are just sitting on them, waiting to see what happens.
If the avenue of demolition is followed, it's going to be a 2-year prospect just to bring the building down. But in this current time frame in Detroit, it would be a shame to use over $15 million of taxpayers money toward the demolition when legitimate developers could redo it.Who are these developers?
Another very popular name-Arnold Schwarzenegger has a company called Grand American, which focuses on adaptive reuse and historical mixed-use project development. they're currently involved in Denver. His architect, David Tryba, has attempted to bring their Hudson's proposal for Detroit.
And they've been rebuffed?
Basically. I think everyone who's interested in Detroit is hoping for its health and wants to move it in a positive, forward direction, and so along that line we have common agendas. It's just this one issue regarding the Hudson's building where we differ.
I have concerns with "destroy and replace." If you destroy Hudson's, what replacement value would be given for the building? You can't replace the psychological ties to the people of our region. You can't replace the links to our heritage that the Hudson's building represents as an institution.
What happened at the public
hearing on the demolition of the building held on July 8?
City Council President Maryann Mahaffey arranged for the 13th-floor auditorium to be made available for an evening. It actually had a turnout of 150 people. Members of the partnership and Downtown Development Authority were asked to be present to explain their position to people, and they declined.
We wanted it to be just more discussion of the issue. And then without the DDA or partnership presenting their side it really became more of a pro-Hudson's redevelopment body. And of that, approximately 9 to 15 of us were working in whatever capacity we could to promote readaptive use to a larger body. And now there's approximately 100 people continually working at least three times a week in some way to do what they can before the D day (rumored to be around Labor Day).
What's your affinity with old
It's not really just about old buildings it's about the ideal city. And the ideal city would be a juxtaposition of old with new. Look how many substantial buildings are going to come down for the stadium project. Id Hudson's comes down, it's just destroying the whole street, wall and corridor, where does it stop?
That's probably the bigger question. Incorporating old buildings into urban areas is the character feature that makes a place special, unique. It fosters a sense of place.
Cultural-based cities really have long-term sustainability throughout time, and America is becoming more and more a disposable environment, a throwaway society.
You live and work in the same
place, but how many people in your immediate area do the same?
There's a larger community here than people know about. People assume that all of these buildings they see are abandoned, because they look abandoned from the outside. But if they scratch beneath the surface, they'll find designers, small business, architects and artists. Traditionally, it has been artists who are on the forefront, like (New York's) SoHo district, of redeveloping and making an area desirable. And that is going on currently in the lower Woodward Corridor, on Broadway and Capitol Park. There are record producers, and one of the largest Techno music scenes in the world is going on over on Gratiot in buildings people assumed are abandoned.
What I like is I can do everything without a car. I can walk to get food or visit my friends. It's a whole difference lifestyle of more community focus. The grocer you know his name. It's not just a cashier at a checkout. There's a whole neighborhood and community down here that is real nourishing.So this is a situation you think others could embrace?
So that's another market that I think the decision makers of Detroit aren't looking toward. They're thinking in the mind-set of their generation: "I'd like to come down for a show, I'd like to come down for an event," so we'll get more shown, more sporting events and that way you'll get some more dollars into the city.
Our parents left the city to move and develop the suburbs of Detroit-and I think it's a cycle. Now the next wave is returning to the city, and that's a nationwide trend. It's not for everyone, but it's definitely a trend.
What do you like most about
The cultural venues are amazing I live a block from the Opera House, so that's an exciting new thing to have in the area. If you're living downtown, you're more likely to go over on a Wednesday night to the symphony and catch a show there than when you're living outside the city. It's more of an event I'm coming down for a symphony where here it becomes a way of life.
I go to the Detroit Institute of Arts' Film Theatre often. And I'd have to say Eastern Market is my favorite place downtown.
One of the best things is the access to local live music you can see world-class jazz performers on Thursday nights at the SereNgeti ballroom on Woodward. Or you can go to BoMac's or Bert's.Have you been able to convince your suburban friends to come downtown?
Occupation: Editor, the Left Bank magazine
Born: Nov. 4, 1968, Garden City
Education: Graduated from Plymouth-Salem High School, 1986; studied art and urban planning at Wayne State University, 1988-1995
Professional: Launched the Left Bank, a quarterly publication "exposing the richness and quality of life in Detroit" in 1995 while a student at Wayne; she designs and edits the artful, $5 publication, which is filled with articles on Detroit's history, architecture, music and other cultural issues. It has a circulation of about 10,000 and is distributed throughout the metro area and to subscribers in New York, LA, and Europe. She is a board member of CityScape Detroit.
Personal: Lives in a downtown loft; single; no children. She makes ceramic architectural tiles and is a self-admitted periodical junkie Metropolis, the Utne Reader, Paper and the Italian Abitare are her favorites. Santo also loves foraging for salvage items from old buildings.