Wave of lawsuits targets Detroit commercial property owners
A legal blitz against owners of long-standing vacant commercial properties is underway.
Why it matters: The city has filed nearly a dozen lawsuits so far this year with the promise of more to come in an unprecedented burst of legal action to reverse decades of neglect.
- The suits target some of Detroit's most well-known vacant and blighted properties, which have impeded development in neighborhoods and along commercial corridors for decades.
- The strategy is to either force property owners to fix up the structures or cede control to the city so they can be demolished or redeveloped.
Driving the news: The city's most recent filing is against owners of the former Mammoth shopping center on the west side that has been vacant for about 20 years.
- Other targeted properties include Perfecting Church at Woodward and 7 Mile and several vacant buildings owned by prominent investor Dennis Kefallinos.
What they're saying: "You've got Perfecting on 7 Mile and Woodward, you've got the Mammoth building on Grand River and Greenfield — for 20 years have stood vacant, for 20 years no progress, for 20 years no activity," Detroit's corporation counsel Conrad Mallett said last week at a press conference.
- "That would not be the case in any other metropolitan city across the United States."
State of play: The campaign is an extension of the M100 — the mayor's ever-evolving list of vacant commercial buildings to be redeveloped or demolished.
Between the lines: Detroit is using a portion of its federal ARPA dollars to hire lawyers for the effort.
- Untangling ownership is part of the work. Some properties are shuffled between various individuals and companies to confuse regulators, which Mallett addressed with a warning last week: "You can run but you cannot hide."
The other side: Some owners say they are still working on developing their properties.
- Purported Mammoth building owner Herb Strather crashed the city's press conference about the lawsuit and said he's trying to build a mixed-use development with restaurants and 100 residential units. "We're happy they're tearing it down. You don't have to sue me. I'll sign right now. Let's tear the building down!"
- "I like to preserve buildings and save them instead of demolish them," Kefallinos told Crain's. "I know it takes too long, but we're going to continue working on it."
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