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Developer to save Park Theatre, create Lincoln Park Lofts

An innovative developer has changed his plans and is now trying to redevelop Lincoln Park's Park Theatre instead of demolishing it.

Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency now plans to turn the historic downriver landmark into retail space and about 40 loft apartments. Previously, it was pushing to tear down the circa-1925 cinema and build a new mixed-use building in its place.

"It will stand out as an exciting entry point to downtown Lincoln Park," says Louis Piszker, CEO of Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency. "We're looking at this project as a seed or catalyst to revitalize the downtown of the city."

The redevelopment plans are on par with many of the most innovative adaptive reuse projects in Michigan's most vibrant downtowns, such as Ann Arbor, Royal Oak and Mt. Clemens. Ann Arbor recently turned an old factory into lofts and retail space. An old trolley car power station was turned into office and retail space in Royal Oak, and a Mt. Clemens developer turned an old stone church that once burned into the downtown's signature loft development.

The Lincoln Park Lofts hold the same potential. The Park Theatre is at 1583 Fort Street, its Streamline Moderne marquee arguably the most recognizable downtown landmark. Renowned theater architect C. Howard Crane, who also designed the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit, designed the Park Theatre.

The 600-seat cinema served as the hub for entertainment in the suburb until it fell on hard times in the 1970s. It briefly became a concert venue where greats like Bob Seger and MC5 played. Seger even mentioned the Park Theatre in a song. It then became a porn palace and remained a blight on the city until it closed a few years ago.

City officials pushed for its redevelopment, and, eventually, its demolition. The Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance, a group of local preservation-minded activists, pushed for saving it to preserve the historic character of the city. The compromise is the Lincoln Park Lofts development.

The developer plans to turn the lobby of the theater into 2,400 square feet of retail space. About 10-12 loft apartments will fill the rest of the space. Most of the interior detailing was lost during its infamous years in the latter half of the 20th Century. The exterior is still intact as it originally stood and will be restored. A new adjacent 3-story building is to be built, and will feature ground floor parking and loft apartments.

The developer expects to utilize brownfield tax credits and possibly historic tax credits to knock a significant chunk off of the development cost. "We're looking into all of our options for tax credits right now," Piszker says.

He hopes to break ground in the spring of 2010 and finish construction in the summer of 2011.

Source: Louis Piszker, CEO of Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency
Writer: Jon Zemke
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