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United Artists Building developer looks to demolish historic theater

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The demo would be part of a $56 million redevelopment of the attached office building into 148 apartments

The United Artists Theatre building, a tall brown stone building, stands in the distance. Photo by Michelle Gerard

A long-awaited redevelopment is finally seeing some forward momentum. Unfortunately, it may come at a cost of losing a historic but abandoned theater.

Bagley Development Group LLC, owned by developer Emmett Moten, is planning a $56 million redevelopment of the United Artists Building. The project would convert the 18-story downtown building, which has sat dormant for years, into 148 apartments with 20 percent designated as “affordable.”

At an October 24 meeting of the Detroit City Council Planning and Economic Development standing committee, Moten sought to establish an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation District and Neighborhood Enterprise Zone around the building, which would make it eligible for $2.43 million in property tax abatements.

Moten is also seeking a 40-year multifamily construction loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At the committee meeting, when asked by an employee of the city’s Legislative Policy Division what would happen to the historic United Artists Theatre attached to the building, Moten said that the State Historic Preservation Office and HUD deemed the theater unsalvageable, and that the loan was contingent on its demolition.

“They’re not gonna go forward unless the theater comes down,” Moten said. “We don’t have a project without that.”

Moten is the same developer looking to demolish the Detroit Saturday Night Building on Fort Street and replace it with a surface parking lot.

Francis Grunow, past chair of the District Detroit Neighborhood Advisory Committee, said during time for public comment that while “I absolutely support the renovation of the United Artists [building],” there were many more questions that need to be answered, including input from the city’s Historic District Commission.

The city council committee recommended approval for the two designations, but Councilmember James Tate said his formal approval would be held pending documentation from HUD.

The Art Deco United Artists Building, which opened in 1928, was designed by “theater palace” architect C. Howard Crane. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, but has been vacant since the mid-1970s. Today, the theater is in a state of disrepair and, if it were to be saved, would require many millions of dollars to restore. Photos inside the theater show extensive damage to the roof and its many ornamental details.

Olympia Development, run by the Ilitches, owns the building but is leasing the rights to Bagley Development. Olympia announced plans to restore the building over two years ago—along with a number of others in the so-called District Detroit—but no progress has been made since.

If the project gets all the necessary financing, construction could start in early 2020 and be complete by mid-2021.

United Artists Building

150 Bagley Street, , MI 48226