Old Adult Theater Becomes New Living Space In Lincoln Park

February 24, 2015

By Pat Batcheller


"I would have been out on the streets, and I wouldn't have lasted very long there."

Dolores Killoran, resident of the new Lincoln Park Lofts.

Wayne County’s foreclosure crisis puts thousands of people at risk of becoming homeless. Advocates say those who do lose their homes will have a tough time finding affordable housing because there’s a shortage of it. A brand new housing project in Lincoln Park is already fully-leased and has a long waiting list. As part of WDET’s Crossing the Lines series, Senior News Editor Pat Batcheller explains how the project gave new hope to one of its tenants and new life to an old abandoned building downtown.

Lou Piszker is the Chief Executive Officer of the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency in Wyandotte. The not-for-profit group offers several services to low-income residents, including help finding affordable housing. He’s giving me a tour of the Agency’s latest development—the Lincoln Park Lofts on Fort Street.

There are two parts to the Lofts. The one most people see as they drive by is the old Lincoln Park Theater. Built in the 1920s, the Park was a family destination for decades. By the 1980s, it became an adults-only theater and pornographic book store. As boys growing up in Lincoln Park, Piszker and his brother were told to avoid the neighborhood.

Lou Piszker

“The rule on your bike was—two rules--you couldn’t cross Fort Street on your bike by ourselves, and we couldn’t come up to the theater,” Piszker says.

The theater closed in 2008. Soon after that, its owners opened the Hustler Club, an adult entertainment venue near I-75 and Outer Drive. When the city of Lincoln Park tried to stop the Club from expanding into the old theater on Fort Street, the owners sued. The case was settled with the parties agreeing to sell the theater to a not-for-profit group. The Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency bought the property for one dollar and announced plans to turn it into low-income housing. Converting the theater wasn’t easy. Wayne Metro’s Construction Projects Director, John Carmody, says the building posed several structural challenges.

“And the big challenge with that was cutting all these windows, putting 44 holes into a structure that wasn’t designed for that. So we had to make sure that we secured it properly to keep the integrity of the building,” Carmody says.

Another challenge was laying out the floor plans for the 12 new apartments to fit the space inside the old theater’s walls. Carmody and Wayne Metro CEO Lou Piszker say they’re pleased with the final result.

“When people get a vision of affordable housing they think you’re throwing up something like a cheap product that’s not gonna stand the test of time. But if you look at all the materials, the ceramic tile, the oak cabinetry, we’ll put this development up against any private development in the county when it comes to quality," Piszker says.

Piszker says tax credits enabled Lincoln Park Lofts to keep the rents below market rates. A one-bedroom unit costs about $450 a month, while a three-bedroom goes for about $750. Many tenants qualify for housing vouchers that reduce their rents even further. No one has moved into the old theater yet, but Piszker says every unit has been leased. That includes 26 additional units in a brand new building behind the theater. With over 180 rental applications, the demand for these lofts has far exceeded the supply. Piszker’s colleague, Shirley McKee, says that’s a common problem throughout Metro Detroit.

“Well, once you get into subsidized housing if you’re on a fixed income, you do your very best to hold onto it. So unless somebody gets evicted, that’s a unit that doesn’t become free and available for someone else," McKee says.

McKee is Wayne Metro’s homeless programs case manager. Some of the units at Lincoln Park Lofts have been set aside for people who were previously homeless, including one of McKee’s clients. Dolores Killoran has lived in the new 26-unit building behind the old theater since the end of October, after losing her house in Ecorse to foreclosure. She basically squatted in her home while she applied for leases at other housing projects, which all turned her down for various reasons. Dolores receives Social Security disability benefits and her fixed income limited her housing options.

“I couldn’t have gone anywhere else, I couldn’t have paid any more money. I mean I don’t know what I would have done. I’d have been out on the streets, and I wouldn’t have lasted very long there,” Killoran says.

Dolores Killoran

So on the day her lease at Lincoln Park Lofts was approved, Killoran moved in that night.

“All I had was one mattress, one tiny little twin mattress, but I didn’t care. And here I am,” Killoran says.

She adds that she enjoys the view of the neighborhood from her balcony, and choked up when she showed me the new washer and dryer that come with every apartment in the complex.

“I have never in my whole life had a brand new washer and dryer. It’s like--God really blessed me. I don’t mean to cry," Killoran says.

While Dolores Killoran may see the Lincoln Park Lofts as a godsend, the developers see it as more than just a housing project. Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency CEO Lou Piszker says he hopes it can revitalize the surrounding neighborhood.

“You now have 38 families here, so I think it’ll be—I think this project—is a—economic shot in the arm to this part of Fort Street,” Piszker says.

He adds that there is room for some retail space in the front of the old Lincoln Park Theater. He says a credit union is looking at moving in under the restored original marquee overlooking Fort Street.