Detroit Historic Preservation St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Detroit City Council Members Play Structural Engineers

by Michael R. Allen

If you think that the preservation system in St. Louis city government is screwed up, count your blessings. In Detroit, the City Council just passed a resolution calling for the emergency demolition of the landmark Michigan Central Station. The resolution comes after the council has done the following: not conduct a structural assessment of the building; not consult the building’s owner about plans for redevelopment; not implore the building owner to redevelop or sell to someone who will; and, most important, only get interested in the building’s plight after the mayor made a move.

Strange priority for a City Council that is having a hard time dealing with a $300 million municipal budget deficit.

Although the building is owned by billionaire developer Manuel Moroun, Mayor Ken Cockrel, Jr. had requested federal stimulus funds for demolition work that could cost around $3.6 million. Since Michicagn Central is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, federal funds for demolition will entail a Section 106 demolition review that could complicate the mayor’s plans. (Michigan Central Station dates to 1913 and was designed by Warren and Wetmore with Reed and Stem.)

The Council’s resolution directs the owner to pay for an emergency demolition, attempting to use a 1984 ordinance that gives the council discretionary power to take down “dangerous” structures. Council President Monica Conyers, perhaps America’s most self-serving urban politician, opines that the building should have come down years ago. Despite years of decay, Michigan Central Station is not unsound and clearly not dangerous in any legal sense. Check out Forgotten Detroit and see for yourself. The old station has great reuse potential!

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has never passed a similar resolution, despite its many redevelopment ordinances that override preservation review. Then again, the St. Louis of today is a city where many aldermen are often the first in line defending the economic value of our landmarks. Thank goodness for the Missouri historic rehabilitation tax credit and the paradigm shift it allowed!