A lengthy saga to save a historic downtown structure has failed.
For a long time, the owner of the luxury condominiums at the Fort Shelby Residences has been trying to demolish the Detroit Saturday Night Building at 550 W. Fort Street. The demolition would make way for a fourth surface parking lot to accommodate an additional 12 cars.
Building owner Emmett Moten has been trying to pull a demo permit since July 2018, and briefly did in November 2018 before it was rescinded. Again last week, Moten pulled a demo permit and heavy construction equipment was seen outside the building.
Preservationists once again rose to action to try and save the building, which was designed by Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls and opened in 1914. The latest attempt would make the building an interim local historic district, requiring a year-long study and likely delaying demolition.
But at a formal session of Detroit City Council on October 1, a resolution put forward by Councilmember James Tate to begin the study failed by a 7-1 vote (one member of council was absent).
Charles Raimi, chief legal counsel for the city of Detroit, who lead a feasibility study on the Saturday Night Building, “reluctantly” recommended demolition at the session. “There’s no way this project can come to fruition and provide parking to owners of the condominium units,” he said.
According to the Detroit Free Press, to redevelop Fort Shelby, the General Retirement Systems of the city of Detroit provided Moten two loans totaling $31.65 million. Raimi argued that without additional parking, it would be harder to sell the condo units and repay the loan, which goes directly to city pensioners.
But preservationists feel 12 parking spots does not justify demolishing a historic structure and that revenue could be recouped with taxpaying tenants in the building. In a letter to City Council, advocacy group Detroiters for Parking Reform wrote that,
We have more parking spaces downtown than ever before, with nearly 40 percent of land in downtown Detroit devoted to this use. But somehow, we are convinced we need 12 more spaces where the historic Detroit Saturday Night Building stands today. This is a building that might otherwise be redeveloped for housing, business, and retail space. World-class cities are not defined by how much parking they have.
The Detroit Saturday Night, a newspaper published in the city from 1907 to 1939, used the building as its headquarters until moving to a larger location in 1929. The three-story brick building has some attractive stone details on its facade.
It’s not clear exactly when the building will be demolished, though it seems inevitable at this point. The Saturday Night Building is the last standing structure on the block of Fort Street between 2nd Avenue and 1st Street.