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Why should we save the CPA Building?

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CPA Building Michelle & Chris Gerard

This week, the fate of the CPA Building could be determined. Last week, a demo permit was issued for the building, which has been vacant for over a decade. It’s not located in a historic district, so it hadn’t gone through a long process to save it. Our photographers Michelle and Chris Gerard took photos of the building last week to capture what the current site looks like now.

CPA Building
CPA Building

First, we should understand why a demo permit was issued. In a statement about the property from the city, Melvin Butch Hollowell, Corporation Counsel for the City of Detroit says,

"The property located at 2411 14th Street, at the corner of Michigan Avenue, known as the CPA Building, has been open, vacant, and in a blighted and dangerous condition for over two decades. On July 14, 2014 the City Council ordered this blighted property to be placed on the Building Safety Engineering and Environmental Department's dangerous buildings list for demolition. BSEED's most recent inspection of the property, last September, showed that the property remained in a dangerous condition with masonry on the southwest front of the building falling on the sidewalk from the upper floors; the boarding on the first floor has deteriorated and remains open to trespass; and the open fencing is a public safety concern.

Immediately following City Council's resolution, the Law Department filed suit against the property owner, BFD Corktown LLC, a Delaware corporation, under the state's nuisance abatement law, obtaining a court order on November 3, requiring the owner to either remediate or demolish the property at its expense."

New York-based Sequoia Property Partners bought the CPA building in 2014, and since then, we haven’t seen much of them or any plans for the building or property. In 2015, it looked like the owner at least wanted to save it. But we haven’t heard or seen anything since. We do know that since the announcement last week, preservationists and neighbors have spoken up about saving it. Crain’s is reporting that there’s interest from other investors to redevelop it.

Since the initial report last week, the Planning & Economic Development Committee voted to approve an interim historic district for the CPA Building after a meeting drew many community members who spoke up about the planned demo. On Friday, a Stop Work notice was placed on the property. On Tuesday, November 22, the City Council will vote on whether to give it an Interim Historic designation. Preservationists are telling supporters to contact their city council members before the meeting.

CPA Building

We asked some residents and historians to weigh in on why it’s important to save these structures.

Dan Austin author and historian from HistoricDetroit.org says,

"Any preservationist and lover of Detroit history should be outraged that the New York owners of the CPA Building want to tear it down. Look, not every building in Detroit can be saved, but this one is a slam-dunk rehab that is in fine shape and in a prime spot for redevelopment. If the current owners of this building can’t be bothered to rehab it, then they should sell it to someone who will. Tearing it down would be foolish and unnecessary. Detroit has lost too many of its historic structures to shortsightedness and thoughtlessness. The people of Detroit, and certainly the neighbors of the CPA, should be the ones who say whether it should stay or go, not out-of-towners without any vested interest in the future of our city or the neighborhood."

CPA Building Michelle & Chris Gerard

Chad Rochkind, Executive Director of Corktown Economic Development Corporation, says,

"Historic structures are vital to the stabilization and economic development of Corktown. Maintaining the street wall as required by the Main Street overlay zoning of the commercial corridor has been crucial to Corktown's small business resurgence, particularly on the north side of Michigan Avenue. We urge the city council to grant interim historic designation status to the CPA Building so that we can preserve our neighborhood fabric and ensure a prosperous future for all. As Jane Jacobs said, "new ideas must use old buildings."

Daisuke Hughes, who owns nearby Astro Coffee, says,

"Historic restoration has been the main catalyst in the transformation of Corktown over the past 10 years. Dozens of structures have been saved and filled with businesses. When we think of any success story of a small business in the neighborhood, a historic renovation is always at the beginning of their story. It's Detroit’s oldest neighborhood and that identity is the DNA of the economic turnaround we are witnessing. To say these old buildings are the backbone of our Renaissance would be an understatement. Our history not only matters, it inspires us to create new spaces for future generations."

The demo itself hasn’t been as quick or easy as some might have feared, although it’s certainly not safe yet. Hollowell continues,

"To pursue demolition, under the City's Zoning Ordinance, the owner would need to first submit any plans for demolition to the City's Planning Department for review since the building is located in a Traditional Main Street Overlay Area. Further, under the City Code, because the property is adjacent to an existing historic district, the property owner must demonstrate to BSEED and the Historic District Commission, what impact the proposed demolition would have on the historic district. Because these requirements have not yet been met, BSEED has rescinded the demolition permits previously issued to the owner."

This whole discussion has us wondering which other structures might be in danger around the city. Feel free to weigh in below.

CPA Building
CPA Building
CPA Building
CPA Building

CPA Building

2238 Michigan Ave. , Detroit, MI