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2nd request to level vacant hotel denied

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2nd request to level vacant hotel denied

Panel defies mayor, Ilitch over Madison-Lenox site

February 12, 2004



Defying Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit's Historic District Commission rejected for the second time Wednesday a request to demolish the historic but dilapidated Madison-Lenox Hotel downtown.

Despite a written appeal from the mayor, the seven-member commission refused to reconsider its decision of a month ago to deny permission to tear down the structure at 246 Madison in the Harmonie Park Historic District.

In brief comments, commissioners said no new evidence had been presented and therefore there was no reason to reconsider their previous decision.

Ilitch Holdings, the company started by sports and pizza magnates Mike and Marian Ilitch, owns the Madison-Lenox and hopes to tear it down for a parking lot for about 85 cars. City officials support their plan, and in August 2002 the city's Downtown Development Authority authorized a $700,000 loan to the Ilitches to pay for demolition.

Faced with this latest denial, the Ilitches may appeal to the state's Historic Preservation Review Board and, if denied there, to the courts. No one from the Ilitches spoke at the meeting.

Walt Watkins, Kilpatrick's chief development officer and a proponent of tearing down the Madison-Lenox, attended Wednesday night's meeting but declined to comment afterward.

Preservationists who attended were pleased with the outcome.

"There are many, many, many surface parking lots downtown, and I don't see that they add much value," said Steve Haag, chairman of the preservation group Friends of the Book-Cadillac.

Although modest in size and appearance, the Madison-Lenox is quickly growing into one of the city's most contentious development battles, pitting the Ilitches, Kilpatrick and his top aides against historic preservationists.

With the vacant hotel in the middle of an area sure to feature in Detroit's hosting of the 2006 Super Bowl events, the battle over the Madison-Lenox seems sure to escalate.

Built initially as two towers, the seven-story Madison was erected in 1900 and the eight-story Lenox three years later. The two hotels were connected by a dining area later. The structure served as a residential hotel for many years and as a rooming house. The structure has been closed and vacant since the early 1990s.

Both sides agree that the Madison-Lenox occupies a key site in the city's emerging entertainment district. It sits across the street from the Detroit Athletic Club and within steps of Comerica Park, Ford Field and the Detroit Opera House.

To preservationists, that's an argument for renovating the structure as housing or a hotel; to the Ilitches and their backers, it's an argument for removing the eyesore as quickly as possible.

In denying permission last month, commissioners said they had tried for more than a year to get the Ilitches to present evidence justifying demolition without receiving any.

Preservationists note that extensive tax credits are available to redevelop historic property, and these can make such a deal attractive to developers.

Contact JOHN GALLAGHER at 313-222-5173 or [email protected]

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