Lincoln Park Residents Unsure of Plans for a Save-A-Lot

February 28, 2015

By Marissa Gawel

Save A Lot Rendering Rendering Courtesy of Brad Coulter

Since Governor Rick Snyder appointed Brad Coulter to serve as Lincoln Park’s emergency manager, he’s worked to increase property values by filling the city’s plethora of vacant commercial land. Coulter’s latest success is replacing an old drug store with a new supermarket, but not all city residents think the store is the best fit for the space.

Coulter says most of Lincoln Park’s residential properties are filled, that’s almost never been a problem. But he says people don’t tend to hang out in the city, because it’s a bedroom community, with a lot of empty commercial spaces. Over the past ten years many businesses closed during the recession. But in the last month, Coulter reached an agreement with a developer to bring discount supermarket Save A Lot to the old CVS Pharmacy building on Fort Street and a block north of Southfield Road.

“We’ve got a blocks of buildings that have been vacant for over 10 years, and the developer bought about five of the eight buildings on that block for $150,000, and they’re investing two million dollars to rehab a couple of the buildings and bring in Save-A-Lot.”

The old CVS, where Save A Lot is going into The building Save-A-Lot's going into. Photo: Marissa Gawel

Coulter says he hopes Save-A-Lot will attract other, smaller businesses to the empty neighboring storefronts, so it won’t be the only filled spot on the block for too long. He says it’s a busy thoroughfare, traffic-wise, and could use a lot more businesses. In five years he would like to see it become as busy as Telegraph Road in Taylor.

“Filled with viable businesses that are nice and people coming to ‘em. To try and pretend we’re gonna have a downtown Wyandotte means setting up for failure.”

Coulter says he doesn’t think Lincoln Park is suited for a traditional, walkable, downtown. He says it’s better designed for housing, especially affordable housing for people working in Detroit or other nearby cities.

Leslie Lynch Wilson disagrees.

She’s the President of the Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance, and says the city is gaining momentum to create a viable downtown area along Fort Street.

“Downtown Development Authority did a streetscape, added landscaping to the medians. Recently, the Park Theater reopened as Lincoln Park Lofts. And the old façade had been totally restored. So that is gonna be a boost to downtown area.”

Wilson says bringing Save-A-Lot in goes against this progress. The original plan violated zoning requirements for the area designed to increase walkability. The developers had to request variances from the local zoning board. Wilson says, for example, the store won’t have street-facing doors, windows or awnings. She also says the developer plans to tear down a neighboring building on the block in order to expand the grocer’s storage capacity.

Neisner Building, set to be demolished The building Save-A-Lot plans to demolish. Photo: Marissa Gawel

Wilson says that building shouldn’t be destroyed… because it’s eligible for historic tax credits. She says she hasn’t had much luck impressing the value of historic buildings on the city.

“When we tried to save the Mellus Newspaper’s building, we were very vocal about our fight. After that more and more people were sort of coming out and saying that they wanted to see the historic building saved, but we’re just a group of volunteers.”

Wilson’s vision of a Lincoln Park downtown is one that remembers the city’s history. Emergency Manager Brad Coulter sees the preservation value of the building the Save-A-Lot’s going to tear down a bit differently.

“Just cause it’s old doesn’t mean it’s historic. I mean, is Auto Zone gonna be historic in 100 years? I don’t think so. It’s an old building that just needs to come down.”

The historic preservation argument is a non-issue for Coulter. His focus is simple: bring in commercial tenants, no matter their plans.

“You’re better off filling buildings so the scrappies don’t rip them apart, and get people in there and grow your tax base. And it may not be the ideal that you’re looking for in terms of place-making, but just gotta get these buildings filled.”

And, that’s what’s happening. Early this month the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals approved Save-A-Lot’s zoning variances. Construction is set to be finished by the end of the year.