Three former attractions in Oakland County that once drew big crowds but now only scrappers could be demolished next year and possibly see the start of redevelopment.
The sites — Northland Center mall, Summit Place Mall and the Pontiac Silverdome — have closed and are boarded up. The two indoor shopping malls fell victim to shifting demographics and shopping habits. The Silverdome never recovered from the Detroit Lions' move to Ford Field in 2002.
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All three properties are well-known landmarks in southeast Michigan and spread over dozens of acres with plentiful parking. Yet the decay and obsolescence of their massive building structures — coupled with the lack of interested tenants — have rendered them "white elephants," a term used for real estate that was once highly valued but now hard to sell.
After years of stagnation, demolition and potential redevelopment may be on the horizon next year.
Summit Place Mall
Originally known as the Pontiac Mall, this property along Telegraph in Waterford opened in 1962 as Michigan's first enclosed shopping mall. But vacant storefronts proliferated by the early 2000s and the mall closed in September 2009, followed by anchor stores J.C. Penney and Macy’s. Its final anchor, Sears, lingered until December 2014.
For years, township officials have pressed the mall's owner, Los Angeles-based SD Capital, to redevelop or demolish the 1.4-million-square-foot structure at its own expense. A breakthrough came early this fall when the owner entered into a tentative purchase agreement for the nearly 80-acre property with a yet-to-be-announced buyer.
"These people have made an offer for the entire Summit Place Mall site," Township Supervisor Gary Wall said last week.
Wall told the Free Press that the township signed a nondisclosure agreement and can't reveal the would-be buyer or the buyer's plans until the deal is finalized. All he would say is the buyer has proposed demolishing some of the mall structure and redeveloping the rest.
"It's partial demolition, partial rehabilitation," Wall said. "Basically the original part of the mall is gone and some of the newer part possibly, too."
Wall said he hopes to make an announcement in coming weeks if the deal goes through.
"We've had other deals come up, and they never materialized," he said. "I feel good about this, but the excitement level isn't there yet until they sign the papers."
Summit Place Mall is the final resting place of a real elephant. A 4-ton circus elephant named Little Jennie dropped dead outside the mall on a hot July day in 1972. Too heavy to move, she was buried right there. Unfortunately, the precise grave site of the elephant remains lost to history.
Northland Center mall
Northland Center opened in Southfield in 1954 as the nation's first regional shopping mall. It was expanded and enclosed by the early 1970s and for years reigned as metro Detroit's dominant fashion mall. But its grandeur and business gradually faded.
The New York-based owner stopped paying the mall's mortgage, and in spring 2015, an Oakland County Circuit Court judge permitted the historic shopping center to be closed for good.
Last December, the City of Southfield bought the 125-acre property for $2.4 million. It recently unveiled a speculative redevelopment concept that would raze most of the mall to build hundreds of new apartments as well as office space, retail and public parks.
Last week, Southfield Mayor Ken Siver told the Free Press the city hopes to start demolishing the mall in phases by late next March. "We have identified 14 companies that we think are qualified to take on a (demolition) project the size of Northland," he said.
The initial demolition might include just the Firestone building and former Target store, he said. Future phases could take down the bulk of the mall and the old J.C. Penney — but keep the former Macy's store. The city is in final negotiations to buy the vacant J.C. Penney from Triumph Church for a tentative price of $1.4 million, Siver said.
The city also is looking to hire a real estate broker to help with brainstorming Northland's redevelopment, a process that might get under way as early as next summer or fall. Siver said any plan would likely involve multiple new uses — not just a new place to shop.
"I can see multiple things happening at once, including housing, medical offices and retail on Greenfield," Siver said of the initial redevelopment phase. "The rest of the property is going to take a little more time."
The four-story Macy's building — originally a J.L. Hudson department store — could later be hollowed out and its shell used for new residential lofts and retail space. The building's massive and labyrinthine underground could be used for parking, and its famous tunnels could perhaps be "daylighted" and transformed into a public park.
"I could see doing the reverse of the High Line in Manhattan or the Dequindre Cut in Detroit," Siver said. "It could be a very cool walking space."
Other possibilities include saving the Northland water tower (currently broken) and transforming the mall's old power plant into a trendy restaurant.
"I have talked to one of the Detroit area's leading restaurateurs who turns spaces into quirky restaurants — he's very interested," the mayor said.
Opened in 1975, the Silverdome was home to the Detroit Lions until 2002 and to the Detroit Pistons from 1978 until 1988. The venue hosted Michael Jackson, Pope John Paul II, Super Bowl XVI and a raucous WrestleMania. But it was all downhill once the Lions left.
The City of Pontiac sold the 127-acre Silverdome site in 2009 for $583,000 to Triple Investment Group, which is run by the family of Toronto developer Andreas Apostolopoulos. The structure has been in advancing disrepair since its inflatable roof was damaged in a 2013 winter storm, exposing everything inside.
In late 2015, the property's brokers said that the ownership intended to start demolishing the stadium early this year to make the land more attractive for redevelopment.
Robert Mihelich, first vice president with CBRE, said last week that demolition is still the plan for the Silverdome, although he could not address the apparent delay. A Free Press message seeking comment from Triple Investment Group was not returned.
Pontiac Deputy Mayor Jane Bais-DiSessa said the city is working with the stadium's ownership in hopes of spurring that redevelopment. She declined to discuss any specifics of these talks or say what might replace the Silverdome. She also couldn't provide an anticipated time line.
"I wish I could discuss it, but it will be something that will complement the region and help bring in new jobs and new industry to our community," Bais-DiSessa said, adding, "I'm confident that we should be getting some kind of new development."