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WTVS-TV to Move to the Monroe Block?

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TOM WALSH: WTVS-TV weighs options for new office

April 20, 2004



The City of Detroit wants to see a new home for public television station WTVS-TV (Channel 56, PBS) on the Monroe Block downtown, across the street from Campus Martius Park and the Hard Rock Cafe.

The State of Michigan envisions WTVS's new headquarters at the State Fairgrounds, along Woodward Avenue.

WTVS President and General Manager Steve Antoniotti has been peppered with calls from brokers and property owners in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and beyond since I wrote six weeks ago that WTVS was mulling a possible move to the suburbs.

Nonprofit WTVS, which employs 90 people and reaches about 3 million households in metro Detroit and Canada, has been searching since 1997 for a high-visibility site for a new headquarters in Detroit but was frustrated by its inability to get a deal done. Channel 56 has operated from cramped quarters in two old buildings on Second Avenue, near the Fisher Building in the New Center, for 30 years.

"I'm looking at another building or meeting about a possible site almost every day now," Antoniotti told me Monday. "We'd like to know by June where we're going to be."

Choices for location

Here are some of the front-runners in the derby to do a deal with WTVS:

The Monroe Block, a prime 2-acre parcel in the Campus Martius development, faces Compuware Corp.'s new headquarters and a new park under construction.

"It's a high priority to keep Channel 56 in the city, so we've offered them the Monroe Block site," said George Jackson Jr., president of Detroit Economic Growth Corp. "We're doing this with the mayor's blessing," he added, referring to Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Jackson ordered a quick appraisal of the Monroe site, a parking lot controlled by the Downtown Development Authority. After that, a purchase price could be negotiated. "We're not going to let it go for free, but we expect to set a very reasonable price," he said.

The State Fairgrounds. Antoniotti met last week with a high-powered group in Lansing that included officials from the state budget and agriculture departments and the Michigan Economic Development Corp., about a possible site at the fairgrounds along Woodward Avenue south of 8 Mile Road. "Gov. (Jennifer) Granholm has been very proactive in helping to identify state land or buildings that might work for us," Antoniotti said.

A mystery site in Oakland County. Antoniotti won't identify it, but he said WTVS has been discussing the purchase of an existing building in a highly visible location. The Oakland site has the advantage of being cheaper than building a new station from scratch.

"Our capital campaign to fund the project would probably be closer to $20 million there, as opposed to $30 million for something new," he said.

Monroe Block looks right

A brand-new, three-story, 70,000-square-foot station house with a glass-walled studio facing Campus Martius Park sounds exactly like the kind of exciting, visible site that might even prompt a big donation to WTVS for naming rights.

Whatever Antoniotti and his board of directors ultimately decide, it's good to hear that they have some attractive options before them, so they don't wind up like so many other employers in the last 40 years, leaving Detroit out of sheer frustration.

Contact TOM WALSH at 313-223-4430 or [email protected]

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