Detroit’s Choice: Beautiful Historic Buildings or More Parking

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: Sigh. Okay then, on to the story. A Canadian developer wants to tear down this building, the State Savings Bank, to make room for more parking in downtown Detroit.

Does Detroit need more parking? Not exactly. Downtown Detroit, an analyst told the Huffington Post, has approximately 71,000 parking spaces and 80,000 daytime workers. About 8.5 percent of metro Detroiters drive in carpools, and another 4.6 percent walk, take taxis, or bike to work.

“Detroit’s downtown has far more parking per worker than nearly every major downtown in the country, from San Francisco to Atlanta, New York to San Diego,” said Rob Linn of Data Driven Detroit.

Now granted, not all of Detroit’s buildings are in use, but they just don’t make them like this one anymore. Detroit still doesn’t seem to recognize that beautiful architecture is one of its best remaining assets.

For decades, Detroit has been trading landmarks like the one above for environments like this:

And there might be no better illustration of backwards attitudes toward cities and public space than this now world famous space in Detroit, the former Michigan Theater:

Detroit's Michigan Theater, converted into a parking lot. Photo: Weburbanist

It’s time for Detroit to start thinking differently about these things.

Cleveland has an old bank building a lot like State Savings that’s been empty for more than a decade — the Cleveland Trust Rotunda:

Image: Wikipedia

The Plain Dealer recently reported that Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County is entertaining potential buyers for the building. The county staged a recent “bidder conference” inside the rotunda, which apparently is everyone’s favorite of the 22 buildings the county is hoping to unload.

Sound surprising? Not as much as you might think. Downtown Cleveland has become a very popular residential area, and apartment occupancy is above 98 percent, according to the Plain Dealer. “Developers are looking for new rental opportunities,” the paper reported last year. While this building won’t likely be converted to residential, a rising tide just might be enough to lifts all boats, as they say.

In the past, Cleveland hasn’t necessarily been shy about clearing away architectural treasures when a developer with her mind on 150-square-foot car stalls comes knocking. But, showing laudable restraint, the city’s planning commission recently rejected a plan to turn another downtown building into a parking garage.

Will Detroit begin to see the light as well?

HuffPo reporter Ashley Woods’ take wasn’t too promising: “In downtown Detroit, the battle between parking and preservation usually tips in favor of those with the deepest pockets.”

Toronto-based developer Andreas Apostolopoulos wants to build a $20 million parking garage on the site. The Detroit Free Press reports the decision will likely come before the city’s Historic District Commission.