Detroit Looks to Sell Lee Plaza to Roxbury Group, Ethos Development Partners for Redevelopment

Detroit officials are looking to sell Lee Plaza to Roxbury Group and Ethos Development Partners for redevelopment into residential and retail space. // Photograph Courtesy of the City of Detroit

Detroit officials say the city intends to sell the historic Lee Plaza to a venture being formed by Roxbury Group and Ethos Development Partners, both in Detroit, for redevelopment. The building is located along W. Grand Boulevard, near Linwood Avenue, and the project is estimated to cost more than $50 million.

The redevelopment would create 180 residential units and retail space.

Lee Plaza is in one of Detroit’s fastest-growing neighborhoods, and the project would bring the architecturally significant building, which has sat vacant for more than 20 years, back to life. At least 50 percent of the units will be reserved for residents earning $40,000 each year or less.

City council members have seen the proposal and will consider it as soon as this week. In anticipation of renovation, the city has been working to stabilize the structure over the last year, and the proposal calls for the developer to collaborate with the city to maintain the building while plans are being finalized. If approved, construction is expected to start as early as 2021.

The building was built in 1928 and has been vacant since 1997. It will revitalize one of the most iconic buildings outside of Detroit’s downtown core and expand opportunities for additional development along the W. Grand Boulevard corridor between the Lodge freeway and I-96. Lee Plaza is located in the NW Goldberg neighborhood, and near Henry Ford Hospital, LaSalle Gardens, and the Woodbridge Historic District.

“An entire generation of young Detroiters has known Lee Plaza only as that vacant eyesore next to Northwestern High School,” says Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “While this building has deteriorated significantly over the last two decades, we have tapped a development team that has saved many buildings others said were too far gone to be brought back to life. In addition, Roxbury and Ethos are committed to making the redeveloped Lee Plaza available to families that have a range of income levels.”

Roxbury Group renovated the David Whitney Building and the Metropolitan Building and has experience with affordable housing. In partnership with Invest Detroit, the company completed the redevelopment of the 165-unit Louis Kamper and Stevens buildings along Washington Boulevard. Ethos Development provided significant support to the transaction. The project renovated and preserved affordability in the senior-living building.

“The Lee once represented the highest aspirations of the city and this neighborhood,” says David Di Rita, principal of the Roxbury Group. “We plan to honor that legacy by restoring this magnificent property to its original beauty and making it a place all Detroiters are welcome.”

Ethos has worked on more than 500 affordable housing units to date, and members of the group were behind the redevelopment of the historic NSO Bell Building. The company is working on the redevelopment of the Transfiguration School, a vacant school building built in 1925 into mixed-income apartments.

Lee Plaza was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 and was designed by architect Charles Noble. It was built by real estate tycoon Ralph T. Lee, who was responsible for a number of apartment buildings across Detroit, and was meant to be a residential hotel, or luxury apartments with the service and amenities of a hotel. The building was converted to senior housing in 1969.

After the Detroit Housing Commission closed the Lee, it was ransacked.

The sale follows a $1.7-million transaction earlier this year between the city and the Detroit Housing Commission that transferred Lee Plaza and other vacant buildings to the Detroit Building Authority. The deal allows the units to be sold or redeveloped as well as provide flexibility to apply for federal and state programs and money.

The project is expected to apply for funding through the city’s new $250-million Affordable Housing Leverage Fund, which was established last year to fund projects that preserve or create affordable housing in Detroit. The developers also plan to seek low-income housing and federal historic tax credits.