May 6, 2024 - News

City seeks financing proof for Perfecting Church's cathedral project

The church behind a big fence.

Perfecting Church's cathedral project as it looked last week. Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios

The city wants proof that Perfecting Church has money to complete its cathedral project at Woodward and 7 Mile that stalled after starting nearly 20 years ago.

The big picture: To help revive commercial corridors like Woodward and Grand River, the city began cracking down on Perfecting Church and other well-known vacant properties last year with a wave of lawsuits intended to force the properties' redevelopment or demolition.

  • Perfecting reached a deal with the city to restart construction on the $50 million church, but timelines within the agreement have been missed.

What they're saying: "I'm trying to work with these guys. It's been slower than I would have liked," Conrad Mallett, the city's chief lawyer, tells Axios. "This is a substantial piece of property in an important part of the city."

  • Mallett conceded some bureaucratic delays on the city's side. "Firm evidence" of financing is still lacking, he says.

The other side: Damon Tooles, of Tooles Contracting Group and the owner's representative on the project, tells Axios that Perfecting provided the city in March with a status update and a bank's letter affirming a $21 million loan to complete the project's next phase. He says the city has not responded.

  • "The project is fully engaged," Tooles says. "We have evidence of financing. We provided it to them."

Catch up quick: In 2003, pastor Marvin Winans announced a grand vision for the 15-acre site — 70 condos, a 165,000-square-foot church and a 1,100-space parking deck. Completion was expected in three years, Crain's reported at the time.

  • But the project was mothballed when financing issues arose during the late-2000s recession, per the Free Press. Services have continued at the existing church on the east side.
  • Perfecting presented updated plans in December to the City Planning Commission that reduced the size of the church from 4,236 seats to 3,365, changed a four-story parking structure to a surface lot and nixed the housing.

The latest: Prior to a groundbreaking ceremony at the site March 5, Winans issued a video invitation to the event with a message: "When you sow a seed of $500 or more, you will be a part of the groundbreaking activities and you will turn the dirt with your own beautiful ceremonial shovel."

  • When asked about the fundraising pitch, Mallett told Axios: "It doesn't inspire confidence and that's for damn sure. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful."
  • The planning commission is expected to finalize approval of the church's new plans within a couple of weeks, which will tee up a City Council vote that was originally expected by last October.

Zoom in: Axios Detroit was onsite last week and did not see much activity. An office building in front of the church was demolished recently.

  • Local businessman J.E. Thomas, 69, who was walking by last week, still has doubts.
  • "I'm an old-fashioned church guy," Thomas tells Axios. "It's about making money. They should've been done."

What's next: Mallett says the law department will continue monitoring the church's progress as the city remains committed to seeing the property put to productive use.

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