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Russell Industrial Center update: Deadline to move out extended, barely

Michelle & Chris Gerard

What a mess.

After receiving eviction notices on Monday afternoon, tenants of the Russell Industrial Center scrambled to figure out why this was happening so quickly or where to move their businesses or studios on such short notice. Since then, a few things have happened.

Many tenants met with Detroit’s Buildings Safety Engineering and Environmental Department yesterday, and by the end of the day, the Russell Industrial Center, run by Dennis Kefallinos' Boydell Development , posted this on their Facebook page,

“Dear Tenants,

As of 4pm today, the City of Detroit's position is tenants have to be out of their space by the end of the day on Tuesday, February 28th, 2017. The only exception, AFTER Tuesday, for tenants to physically be in their space, is IF you need to come back to move out more of your belongings. The city is only allowing tenants back to move out, but not to do any business or work. If any tenant can not move out, you are more than welcome to leave your belongings in your space as storage for the time being until the city is satisfied with improvements and allows tenants back.

Thank you.

Russell Industrial Center Management”

We’ve heard from tenants who’ve been in the Russell for decades who are now looking for a new place. Some are considering places outside of the city, considering the timeline they’re given.

We’ve also heard from artist Lucy Owen, who posted an open letter to Mayor Duggan, outraged at the sudden evictions. Here’s an excerpt of her letter:

“I'm so angry with the City of Detroit right now. I just heard that eviction notices have been served to everybody at the Russell Industrial Center. Press reports say it's the same old story; the building is not up to code, the owner has failed to rectify problems in time. However, also reported are the city's concerns that the building is zoned for factory use and is used as artist's studios and workshops. Not really the same old story then, given that the Russell has been a thriving hub for creatives for more than two decades.

Now this is an issue, more than twenty years down the line? The building codes could not be satisfied whilst remaining open?

The Russell Industrial Center is iconic. As an artist visiting from England in 2015 I was lucky enough to rent studio space there myself for a few months. I say lucky because RIC is the internationally recognised beacon of Detroit's re-emergence as one of the most prominent cultural centres in America. The folks back home were impressed I'd landed a spot there. I now live in the States and maintain strong ties with Detroit.

...Is it completely unimaginable for that same city to honour its debt to its makers and thinkers by applying some latitude to administrative machinations? Maybe, in this instance, treating the Russell as the arts institution it has become and collaborating with them to find solutions? What is the result the city is hoping to see here anyway? The Russell Industrial Center must not be allowed to become yet another abandoned rusting skeleton; overgrown with plant life and half-buried in trash by the side of the highway.”

Also coming back up in the news is a long-running lawsuit against Kefallinos and Boydell for not having certificates of occupancy for some of their loft buildings around town. According to the Free Press,

“In the lofts lawsuit filed in Wayne County Circuit Court in 2014, current and former tenants claim Kefallinos and his companies, Boydell Development and Ivory Properties, rented out apartments in places like Greektown Lofts, Brooklyn Lofts in Corktown, Grand Lofts near Mexicantown and the River Park Lofts off the Detroit River without ever receiving certificates of occupancy from the city.

The tenants "have been unfairly deceived into leasing ... unsafe and uncertified properties and paying rent they had no legal obligation to pay," the lawsuit claims.”

We’ve also covered some of his not-so-stellar property management in the past.

In our original post and Facebook post, some readers offered up spaces for people looking for them. But still, what will happen with the Russell?