We've Moved

Ecology of Absence now resides at www.preservationresearch.com. Please change your links and feeds.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Detroit City Council Members Play Structural Engineers

If you think that the preservation system in St. Louis city government is screwed up, count your blessings. In Detroit, the City Council just passed a resolution calling for the emergency demolition of the landmark Michigan Central Station. The resolution comes after the council has done the following: not conduct a structural assessment of the building; not consult the building's owner about plans for redevelopment; not implore the building owner to redevelop or sell to someone who will; and, most important, only get interested in the building's plight after the mayor made a move.

Strange priority for a City Council that is having a hard time dealing with a $300 million municipal budget deficit.

Although the building is owned by billionaire developer Manuel Moroun, Mayor Ken Cockrel, Jr. had requested federal stimulus funds for demolition work that could cost around $3.6 million. Since Michicagn Central is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, federal funds for demolition will entail a Section 106 demolition review that could complicate the mayor's plans. (Michigan Central Station dates to 1913 and was designed by Warren and Wetmore with Reed and Stem.)

The Council's resolution directs the owner to pay for an emergency demolition, attempting to use a 1984 ordinance that gives the council discretionary power to take down "dangerous" structures. Council President Monica Conyers, perhaps America's most self-serving urban politician, opines that the building should have come down years ago. Despite years of decay, Michigan Central Station is not unsound and clearly not dangerous in any legal sense. Check out Forgotten Detroit and see for yourself. The old station has great reuse potential!

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has never passed a similar resolution, despite its many redevelopment ordinances that override preservation review. Then again, the St. Louis of today is a city where many aldermen are often the first in line defending the economic value of our landmarks. Thank goodness for the Missouri historic rehabilitation tax credit and the paradigm shift it allowed!


Jeff said...

If Detroit allows this magnificent structure to be torn down for NOTHING, I will lose all faith in the city ever picking itself back up. They already demolished the Hudson's Building (the world's largest department store when it was built). The self-respect in that city is gone. It's a shame-- Detroit is amazing.

Andrew R said...

Great post Michael. It's amazing how people in public service believe demolishing historic structures is an appropriate use of stimulus funds. In what way would that contribute something positive that would lead to greater economic opportunities? It would serve to employ some demolition contractors and landfills for a short time, then leave a huge hole in the city.

Unknown said...

Now that is one incredible piece of architecture! If they don't want it can we move it here!?

Michael R. Allen said...

$3.6 million could be used to start remediation on Michigan Central, or to rehab 20 houses in a neighborhood, or to start a homeowner repair fund....

Chris said...

Was a city ever revitalized by demolition that wasn't accompanied by smart redevelopment? Detroit is going further down the toilet.

Anonymous said...

We followed Detroit's path in becoming #2 in autos so let's hope we won't continue to follow their lead in real estate. Financially distressed cities often operate with short sighted decisions as survival rules. Too bad but we linked our future to GM.

Anonymous said...

exactly what a Mid West city needs.

they should all be more like Phoenix or Houston, but without the balmy (winter) weather.

then people would re-invest. yeah.

john w. said...

Architecture rules.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if anyone has actually been to this part of Detroit, but I have. It is a beautiful building, I took some pictures of it. Sad to see it go. But in all honesty it is in a real tough location for rehab or re-use. The re-development happening in Detroit seems to be by the new sports stadiums which this is unfortanely not all that close to. Investors would have a tough time getting people or business to move in there. When a whole city can't survive how can we expect them to save one building in an area they aren't focusing on. Regardless, it is sad to see it go, but I am neither surprised or upset.

Chris said...


Just because you and the aldermen of Detroit lack the creativity and ideas to rehab the station doesn't mean it should be demolished. Leave it for future--and more innovative--generations to save it. It's not like it's in danger of collapsing on a hospital or orphanage tomorrow.

Chris Naffziger
2929 S. Compton Ave
St. Louis, MO 63118

Michael R. Allen said...

Detroit is a great example of how reducing the size of a city legislative body alone won't lead to better government.

Navi said...

Chris you're completely right. City clowncil and the mayor only want to do this in a hope for re-election. It's hard to argue that tearing down one station in the middle of vacant grasslands and abandoned buildings would actually do more good than tearing down 500 crackhouses/burnt out homes...but at the end of the day, you can get re-elected by pointing and saying, "yeah, that was me, I got rid of that ugly 18 story 'eyesore'"


Anonymous said...


Sorry to upset you so much, I am not sure how you seem to think that I was advocating they demolish it. Or how my statement leads you to attack my creativity or ideas. I have no problem with leaving the building as is for future hopes of re-use and development.

Your Pal,