Abandoned Hospital could have Future as Pile of Rubble

April 1, 2014
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Gettys building

As the heated discussion of the Detroit City Council’s approval for a new hockey arena continues to smolder, the fate of a historical structure on the other side of town remains uncertain. Though it has not been vacant long, the Herman Kiefer Health Complex may not have a chance at redevelopment, simply because the city has no funds to fix it. When the doors were locked in October of 2013, the sprawling complex was only partially being used. It was occupied by the Department of Health and Wellness Promotion and Detroit’s Vital Records in just a small section of the Kiefer. Now, sits an abandoned structure, in a part of the city that could use some revitalization. “It’s not falling apart, the windows are still there. Stuff needs to be updated in terms of heating and electrical system. The roofs are good. They’re solid buildings,” according to city planner and real estate development manager, James Marusich.

In the early 2000’s, redevelopment began on the Traverse City State Hospital, a former mental institution that is now comprised of condos, apartments, senior living, restaurants, offices and boutiques. The Minervini Group who is responsible for The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, continues to repurpose buildings of the old hospital. Now, here are the big questions concerning the redevelopment of the Kiefer. First, what is in demand in that part of the city? Located at 1151 Taylor Street, just off of the Lodge, the complex is adjacent to the LaSalle Gardens, Virginia Park and Boston Edison neighborhoods. Would that area benefit more from, a state-of-the-art health care facility, or a residential and commercial complex? Here are the facts:the Herman Kiefer sits on 800,000 square feet of land. The estimated cost to redevelop is $100 per square foot. If you failed basic math like I did, that’s $80,000,000.That’s the kind of money that Detroit simply does not have. It would only cost around $4.5 million to demolish the whole thing. So, is there a development group with enough scratch that can submit a viable proposal to restore the complex?

Part of the allure to renovate is the Kiefer’s colorful history. At the center of the complex is the original main building, a neo-classic masterpiece designed by Albert Kahn. When it opened in 1893, it was a hospital that specialized in treatment of communicable diseases. In the 1930’s, a large portion was dedicated to treating Tuberculosis, even treating prostitutes in a small section of the power house. Who wouldn’t want to live there?The Kiefer Complex is in a historical district, which means it cannot be demolished without approval of the Historic District Commission. However, if no proposals are accepted by the April 18th deadline, the city will most likely tear it down.

Curbed slideshow here.

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  • Sue

    I wish they would open it up for tours. I would pay to take one!

  • Krawlspace

    The saddest part of all this… If and when demolition comes, even after the city holds a “Fixture Sale”, so much will be left in the building of value (both aesthetic and practical) and it will all go to the landfill. My compatriots and I have tried so many times to retrieve items like the benches, doors, light fixtures, bookcases, and architectural ornamentation seen in the Curbed photos, only to be rebuffed by owners, managers, or contractors. We just have to sit and watch it turn to dust and rubble. Sometimes it makes me feel physically sick to watch.