Construction is stalled on the first of 10 real estate developments included in the $1.5 billion District Detroit project amid sales negotiations with the Detroit-Wayne County Stadium Authority for three parking lots outside Comerica Park.
The City Council’s Legislative Policy Division provided an update on the long-anticipated project, which includes two hotels, 695 apartments, retail space, offices and parking structures largely located between Elizabeth Street and Fisher Freeway. A high-rise office tower with ground-level retail was the first building planned. Construction was supposed to start over the summer, but developers are unable to break ground until they agree on a sales price with the Stadium Authority.
Olympia Development of Michigan and Related Companies are partnering on the project, which is meant to advance a long-stalled vision for the northern border of downtown to better connect entertainment venues and restaurants to housing options while also creating new public spaces. The project is also closely aligned with a planned $250 million University of Michigan facility that has yet to receive formal approval from the Board of Regents.
Negotiations continue to sell the parking lots “at a mutually agreed upon fair market value price,” Olympia officials told the city. The Detroit Free Press reported there is a roughly $10 million gap between the appraisals done by Wayne County and Olympia, with the developers’ appraisal on the lower end.
Developers pushed City Council members to support approval of a $615 million subsidy in part to ensure construction would begin this summer. The deal, which also received approval from a state board, redistributes taxes generated from the sites to partially reimburse developers once the projects are finished.
Council Member Angela Whitfield-Calloway requested a report from LPD on the status of District Detroit in September. Whitfield-Calloway, who could not be reached Thursday, said she was not familiar with the Stadium Authority at the time.
“I’m wondering, since District Detroit came before us and we approved tax abatements, what is the delay?,” she said in September. “They should still be starting some development instead of waiting to buy this parcel of land.”
The development team promoted signs of progress when unveiling an “opportunity center” on the first floor of the Fox Theatre building in August. Mayor Mike Duggan said he wasn’t concerned about the construction delay at the time.
The City Council approved tax abatement certificates before developers gained control of the site. Related and Olympia cannot receive the benefits of tax abatements until they obtain the Woodward sites and start construction. Three sites planned for development are owned by the Stadium Authority.
Publicly available information about the Stadium Authority is sparse. Meetings in June, July, August and September were canceled.
The Stadium Authority and Olympia have a management agreement that gives Olympia a right to develop parking, bars, restaurants and entertainment uses on both sides. The Stadium Authority can’t sell the land or make it available for another third-party while the 95-year agreement is active.
Olympia is seeking to own the property outright. A real estate option agreement executed in May grants Olympia the ability to purchase the sites for “fair market value” price. Olympia and the Stadium Authority each commissioned appraisals, according to the Oct. 3 LPD report.
Olympia Development of Michigan and Related Companies are planning to build a residential housing project on an adjacent parking lot owned by the Stadium Authority. The building would include 287 apartments, including 58 offered at reduced rents meant to be affordable for a person earning $33,150, and ground-level retail. Construction is anticipated to start in winter 2024. An underground parking garage is planned beneath the two buildings, with an outdoor public plaza between them.
St. John’s Church and the Stadium Authority also own a third surface parking lot on Woodward where developers are planning to build a retail and office building. Construction is expected to begin in 2025.
Olympia officials said the Stadium Authority “supports the development of these sites” in a statement included in the report.