Motown's first all-girl group, the Marvelettes, in a publicity photo.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Motown museum plans fall through
Berry Gordy's group couldn't raise money to build $28M facility north of the Fox Theatre
Robert Snell / The Detroit News
DETROIT -- A deal to build a $28 million Motown museum and entertainment facility at Woodward and Interstate 75 is dead after record label founder Berry Gordy Jr. and city development officials mutually terminated the project.
The development was killed, according to the city, because nothing had been built in the six years since a deal was reached; Gordy blamed a lack of money.
The deal's unraveling gives the city of Detroit ownership of 15 properties near the intersection, which would have been developed by Gordy's nonprofit group, the Motown Center. The city has reclaimed the land and can sell it to the highest bidder or offer it up for redevelopment. The land is along a critical stretch of Woodward north of the Fox Theatre, Comerica Park and Ford Field.
The proposed Motown Center project would have included an interactive museum featuring Motown memorabilia and an entertainment facility. Its demise coincides with the fabled label's 50th anniversary celebration, which started in October, and derails an effort to build a prominent Motown presence downtown honoring the company's legacy and musical stars such as Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.
"I may not live in Detroit now, but it is on those streets where my heart lies," Gordy wrote in an e-mailed statement. He moved Motown to Los Angeles in 1972 and later sold his interests in the record label.
A smaller museum could be built, but it is a matter of "where and how," said Motown Center President Tanya Heidelberg-Yopp.
"The economic climate makes it not feasible to move forward," she said.
Gordy spokesman Paul Freundlich said the nonprofit group itself might not survive. That's because Motown Center has posted a more than $1 million deficit from 2004-2005, according to the group's most recent tax filings.
"There was a lot more than $1 million lost," Gordy said. "There was the time spent, the work and the selfless commitment from a lot of loyal people that were passionate about making the project a reality for Detroit."
The nonprofit group simply couldn't raise enough money to build the project, Gordy said.
The group spent a lot of money trying to raise the cash, tax records show.
The group paid a professional fundraiser $87,500 in 2004, yet the center only raised $30,000 in contributions, gifts or grants, tax records show.
The group listed more than $3 million in assets in 2005, most of which was three parcels of land along Woodward. The three parcels -- just north of the proposed Motown Center site -- were given to the Detroit Economic Development Corp. this summer as a condition of the deal falling through.
Group's future in jeopardy
The financial situation leaves the Motown Center's future "very much in doubt," Freundlich said.
Gordy has options, however.
He is president of real estate firm Cherrylawn Realty, which owns seven properties at or near the intersection of Woodward and I-75, including land that once housed the Donovan Building.
The 10-story Donovan Building, torn down last year ahead of the Super Bowl, was Motown's headquarters from 1968 to 1972.
"There are no specific plans for the development of that land," Gordy said.
The Motown Center project would have provided a larger, additional facility complementing the separate Motown Historical Museum on West Grand Boulevard, which is headed by Gordy's sister, Esther Gordy Edwards.The historical museum could be expanded now that the Motown Center project is dead, said Robin Terry, Motown Historical Museum chairwoman and chief executive.
"We certainly are exploring that opportunity," Terry said. "We're limited by our current space. We have a responsibility to future generations, to really give them an appropriate space."
Money issues aside, Motown Center successfully created a pilot program last year at Southeastern High School, helping kids create a student-run record label, Heidelberg-Yopp said. The center brought in musicians, industry executives and veteran Motown producers Brian and Eddie Holland.
"The whole goal is using the Motown legacy to touch people, and we've done that successfully without having to build a building," Heidelberg-Yopp said.
City officials now have a chance to redevelop a key chunk of land.
The development deal was signed Oct. 1, 2001, and Motown was to start construction within 20 months and finish within 36 months. As part of the deal, the Economic Development Corporation gave Motown $2.5 million plus a dozen properties near the Woodward/I-75 intersection.
The city later extended the deal, and construction was supposed to be finished Nov. 1, 2008.
"We gave them as much time as we felt was reasonable," said Art Papapanos, vice president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., a public/private agency promoting Detroit development.
The Economic Development Corp. gets to keep those dozen properties now that the deal is dead.
And as a condition of the deal falling through, the city received three more Woodward properties from Motown Center in lieu of the $2.5 million being paid back, Papapanos said.
Hockey arena a possibility?
The three Woodward properties faced foreclosure April 1, 2008, because Motown Center owed about $14,000 in unpaid property taxes dating to 2005, according to the Wayne County Treasurer's office.
The back taxes were paid Nov. 29, days after The Detroit News first called Heidelberg-Yopp, asking about the delinquency.
The Woodward land could be combined with the other parcels owned by the Economic Development Corp. and the city, and sold to a developer, Papapanos said.
The city and the Detroit Economic Development Corp. own about half of the land within the first four blocks north of I-75, between Woodward and Park.
But the cost of acquiring other parcels and offering the space for one development has been too expensive, said Brian Holdwick, the growth corporation's vice president of business and financial services.
The city has marketed some of its land to prospective developers, perhaps for a mixed-use development, Holdwick said. The nearly four-block area has been called an ideal spot for a new Detroit Red Wings hockey arena according to one development expert. But Ilitch Holdings spokeswoman Karen Cullen declined to discuss specific locations for a new arena.
One development official suspects the land would give Mike and Marian Ilitch, owners of the Red Wings, an option other than building behind the Fox Theatre, where the family empire has acquired a wide swath of land.
"Ilitch always has two or three areas (in mind) to stay ahead of the speculators," said Patrick Dorn, executive director of the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corp. "You can't get a better, sweeter spot for an arena," than the Motown Center land and surrounding properties.
Cullen acknowledges the company is considering more than one location. She was unaware of the Motown Center property, but wouldn't rule it out.
"In the broadest sense, I don't want to get into various sites," she said. "We haven't made a decision on the arena and are still considering all of our options, both whether to renovate (Joe Louis Arena) or build new."
James Canning, spokesman for Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, has not heard of any city effort to offer the land to Ilitch for a new hockey arena.
"It's a great parcel of land and our development guys will go out and market it," Canning said.
Though the Motown project won't be built, Canning said: "We have an awesome Motown museum (on West Grand Boulevard). The community needs to continue to embrace that location."
You can reach Robert Snell at (313) 222-2028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.