NIMBY: home for HIV+ homeless fought by Detroit Masonic Temple

Tom Boland (
Sun, 15 Feb 1998 11:21:48 -0800 (PST)

FWD 2-6-98 By Pete Waldmeir / The Detroit News


President Gil Hill says the Detroit City Council was "asleep at the switch"
last month when it deeded ownership of a derelict, six-story apartment
building at 437 Temple to a Cass corridor group that wants to turn it into
a haven for homeless people who are HIV positive.

"All there was was an address" Hill said. "If I'd known what we were voting
on, I'd have objected immediately and held it up. But there's nothing we
can do now.

"The thing that bothers me is, we gave it away for $1. We make people jump
through hoops to buy less valuable properties than that. I promise you one
thing: The group that says they're going to rehab that property isn't going
to get any assistance from me."

Why the big fuss over a boarded-up, abandoned building in the Cass
corridor? Well, it happens to be one of the most widely viewed public
eyesores in Detroit's center city: the Temple Towers, directly across the
street from the Masonic Temple's awninged entrance.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors annually come downtown to attend
meetings, weddings and other events at the massive, ornate 1,034-room
Masonic Temple. They are upscale Detroiters and suburbanites who patronize
Broadway shows like The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Evita and Beauty
and the Beast, which have played there before packed crowds.

Over the next two months, Masonic Theater promoter Alan Lichtenstein said,
return performances of Annie and River Dance will play to sellouts, whose
patrons also will pack nearby restaurants and other businesses. "That
apartment building has been abandoned for 10 years," said the Masonic
Temple's general manager, Gil Rice. "It doesn't meet safety or zoning
codes. There's no on-site parking.

"If the building was on Woodward Avenue, across from the Fox, you can bet
the city would have torn it down a long time ago," Rice continued. "We
asked and asked, and all they did was tell us that they'd look into it.
Meanwhile, we pay $43,000 a year in taxes and we've just put more than $5
million into our building.

"So, without even warning us ahead of time, they turn that hulk over to
some outfit that has no firm plans, only an idea of what they'd like to do,
for a lousy buck? Now, I ask you: What's going on?"

One person who said she knows what's going on is Karen McLeod, executive
director of the nonprofit Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corp.,
which acquired the property for $1 on Jan. 28. McLeod told the city she has
access to $3.5 million to rehab the building, but she declined to detail
her financial resources when I asked Thursday.

She did acknowledge her intention to build permanent housing for homeless
people who are HIV positive. McLeod said her group has built or rehabbed
192 housing low-cost units in the Cass corridor, and suggested that the
Masonic Temple might want to place a surcharge on theater tickets to help
finance the HIV refuge.

At day's end Thursday, Rice was threatening to padlock the 75-year-old
Temple and close the theater if the city allows McLeod to continue. And the
Temple's attorney, Melvin "Butch" Hollowell, was headed to Wayne County
Circuit Court to seek a stay of McLeod's $1 takeover.

That's more life in the big city.
[Pete Waldmeir's column appears Sundays, Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays in
The Detroit News. Write to him at 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, Mich. 48226 or
send e-mail to]


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