It looks like Mies van der Rohe’s Lafayette Towers in Detroit may avoid the auction block a little longer. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) foreclosed on the high-rise apartment buildings in February, and HUD had planned to put them up for auction this month (albeit with a litany of multi-million-dollar renovations required of the lucky winner).
Detroit exercised its first right of refusal on that course of action, wary of the iconic towers falling into the wrong hands. New York-based Northern Group bought the buildings in 2008 for $16 million in cash, but stopped making payments on its loans by 2010. The towers were transferred to HUD soon after. Now the city’s group for planning and facilities is seeking a private owner to bring the buildings back from disrepair.
For many years much of Detroit’s riverfront was an industrial utility, characterized by derelict manufacturing sites. But efforts to reclaim public spaces on the waterfront have made considerable progress in recent years. Now a $44 million boost from the federal government and the state of Michigan ensures transformation along the Detroit River will continue.
Detroit Mayor David Bing is making good on his pledge to demolish 10,000 derelict buildings in the city by the end of his first term in 2013—his administration has already taken down 4,500 abandoned structures, with another 1,500 demolitions planned by the end of September. (Five more came down this morning, and Curbed Detroit was on the scene to document the demolition.) Now the governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, is expected to announce state support to help raze more buildings in the name of public safety.
With an initial focus on Detroit’s east, southwest, and northwest sides, the governor’s administration is currently identifying neighborhoods for a pilot program. The Michigan Land Bank, Detroit Public Schools, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority are among the many agencies and private sector actors involved in the effort to reclaim Detroit’s wealth of abandoned and unused land.
Neighborhood stabilization and economic development have been at the core of many of Bing’s proposals as mayor. But with Wayne County facing a $155 million budget deficit, efforts to transform Detroit’s well-documented decline will have to do more with less.
Despite the Motor City’s notoriety as a symbol of urban decay, development is actually going on in Detroit. And with almost 40 square miles of vacant land, Detroit has the chance to redefine urban renewal outright. The city recently took note of one major way some residents are turning blight into bounty: Mayor David Bing signed off on Michigan State University’s plan to seed urban agriculture in Detroit with $1.5 million over the next three years.
As community groups and government agencies in Detroit struggle to find a solution to the depopulation and economic problems facing the city, one group sees opportunity in the city’s abandonment. A rather imaginative new proposal seeks to create a destination out of dereliction—a morbid amusement park out of a moribund neighborhood. A zombie experience park!
Z World Detroit proposes to transform a 200-acre blighted area of the city into an interactive zombie park where abandoned warehouses become sanctuaries and condemned homes into hideouts as visitors run for their lives through city streets while the undead hordes trail closely behind. As you and a group of friends forage for food and water in this surreal over-night adventure, empty stores and forgotten factories may house the last supplies and provisions.
On Wednesday, federal transportation secretary Ray LaHood effectively killed Detroit’s planned light rail line, citing doubt about the city’s ability to build and maintain the project, given its dire finances and collapsing levels of density. He instead pushed for bus rapid transit along the Woodward Avenue corridor. Elsewhere, however, transit seems to be gaining traction. Read More
Detroit’s most famous ruin, Michigan Central Depot, may soon see new life. Workers for the billionaire Maroun family have been clearing debris out of the 18-story building and a feasibility study for reusing the building is underway. Ann Arbor-based Quinn Evans Architects are among those working on the study. “Structurally, the building is very sound. What’s different now from (previous attempts) is the momentum—the group of people behind this effort as well as the outreach to a wide group,” principal Elisabeth Kibble, told the Detroit News. Local politicians, foundation leaders, and officials from the Detroit Institute of the Arts were recently given a tour of the space. New York-based developer Scott Griffin is working with the Marouns to find possible new uses for the building.
Photographs by Andrew Moore
Queens Museum of Art
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
The Queens Museum of Art (QMA) presents the powerful photography of Andrew Moore from his three-month visit to Detroit from 2008 to 2009. Moore’s photographs are a tragic yet beautiful glimpse into the decline of a city that was once the twentieth century industrial heart of America. Michigan Central Station (above) stands empty, the organ screen at the United Artists Theater is crumbling, and bright green moss covers the floor of the former Ford Motor Company Headquarters. “Moore’s exquisitely realized visions of architecture overtaken by vegetation remind contemporary viewers that our own familiar culture is subject to the forces of entropy and the eternal strength of nature,” says a statement from QMA.
Among the triumvirate of Save Detroit schemes (urban farming, attracting artists, and right-sizing the city), cultural projects in some ways seem most challenging given the city’s dire circumstances. Located in a formerly abandoned bank building, the new Kunsthalle Detroit will showcase multimedia and light-based artworks, a smart strategy given the comparatively low cost and ease of presenting such work. The museum opens tomorrow with an exhibition titled, “Time and Place,” featuring works by Bill Viola, Tim White-Sobieski and ten other artists. “This museum brings the best in contemporary multimedia art as catered to the local population,” said founder Tate Osten, in a statement. “It is ultimately a revolutionary action, bringing international art forces to Detroit. In the near future we envision multimedia and light projects splashing from within the museum onto the streets of Detroit, making life and art inseparable.” Kunsthalle Detroit is located at 5001 Grand River Avenue, and will be open Tuesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.