Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Ron Castellano’s name.

Hey everyone,

This week’s issue of The Dig is a little lighter than usual: Outlier Media closed its offices in recognition of Juneteenth. But there’s still plenty to catch up on, including plenty of development news and a scoop about developers owing millions of dollars to the city’s water department. 

We’ve also got a question for you: What are you a “freak” for? Keep scrolling to learn more. 

As always, thanks for reading.

The Dirt

>>Stalled no more? New plans have emerged for the long-vacant Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center in Brush Park. Bingham Farms-based affordable housing developer MHT Housing Inc. is negotiating with owner KC Crain to purchase the property. MHT has put together extensive plans to bring 211 apartments to the site across multiple buildings, including 52 supportive housing apartments for young adults who have aged out of the foster care system. The rest of the apartments would be for people making 30% to 80% of the Area Median Income. The historic recreation center where Joe Louis learned how to box would also be renovated to restore its original use. The whole project is projected to cost $90 million to $100 million with Low-Income Housing Tax Credits part of the financing. Crain and others announced a $50 million development in 2015, but apparently couldn’t find a way to accommodate enough parking, stalling that project indefinitely. (Crain’s Detroit Business)

>>Hold the parade: The Parade Co. has to raise a substantial portion of the $45 million it needs to start construction or risk losing the Detroit Naval Armory, which it agreed to purchase from the city in 2021. President and CEO Tony Michaels said the Parade Co. has raised at least 20% of its goal as the Sept. 30 deadline to finalize the purchase looms. He added that the city will provide some leniency if the nonprofit shows progress in its campaign. If the campaign goal is any indication, costs have risen by nearly $10 million since plans were first presented to the city’s Historic District Commission two years ago. (Outlier Media, Detroit News, Crain’s Detroit Business)

>>Historic hurdles: Owners of Detroit’s historic homes have found it hard to balance maintaining their historic features while improving energy efficiency through renovations. Insulating requires walls to be torn down, which can remove plaster or wood paneling. Getting energy-efficient windows potentially means replacing the wood trim or leaded glass. Owners also have to get approval for their plans from the Historic District Commission, prolonging renovation timelines. Support does exist from neighborhood associations, consultants and architectural firms that specialize in these kinds of renovations. But it’s still going to be time-consuming and expensive. (Planet Detroit)

>>Development news quick-hitters: The City of Detroit and Perfecting Church have reached a deal that would allow for construction to resume on the megachurch after years of delay. The church said it would begin work no later than next spring… The Historic District Commission approved plans for a project spanning three buildings on Broadway Street downtown, which include constructing a nine-story apartment building that incorporates facades of two buildings and demolishes a third… Developers broke ground on a $8.2 million mixed-use project on the east side. The Ribbon will have 18 apartments renting below 80% of the Area Median Income and has already secured restaurant Gajiza Dumplings as a commercial tenant. (Axios Detroit, Detroit Free Press, Model D)

Dig Deeper

More lawsuits from the city

At the most recent Board of Water Commissioners meeting, Detroit Documenters learned that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) is suing 16 commercial property owners for unpaid water bills. The department is seeking to recoup around $3 million from these owners. 

One prominent name on the list is Herman Kiefer, the massive hospital complex off M-10 (Lodge Freeway) owned by Ron Castellano. DWSD says it’s owed a whopping $797,000 for the complex’s water, sewer and drainage. The city sold the buildings to Castellano in 2015, but there has been little progress since. 

The City of Detroit has been aggressively pursuing negligent property owners over the past year. It has initiated a wave of lawsuits against people who let their buildings deteriorate, like Dennis Kefallinos and owners of the Packard Plant and Mammoth Building. Mayor Mike Duggan is also advocating for tax reform that raises property taxes on vacant land as a way to punish speculators. 

The litigation from the mayor’s legal team and water department are unrelated, said DWSD spokesperson Bryan Peckinpaugh in a statement to Outlier. “We began aggressively pursuing delinquent commercial accounts back in 2017 through service interruptions, tax-roll (which we don’t do for residential), a collections firm and lawsuits,” he said.

Peckinpaugh added that the cases have only recently been made public after the board’s new Legal and Government Affairs Committee updated the bylaws to report litigation to the board every month.

Call Out

What are you a freak for?

A couple weeks ago we wrote about the Detroit Bench Freak, a Twitter account run by Bobbi Baumez, a recent transplant to Detroit who catalogs the city’s benches. We loved how Baumez’s nerdy enthusiasm came through with each post — and so did you! The response to the article was overwhelmingly positive. 

It also got us thinking: What parts of Detroit are you a “freak” for? We’ve previously written about people who extensively document their home renovation or are obsessive about Brutalist architecture in Detroit

What are you obsessive about? Cobblestone streets? Facade stone carvings? Varieties of bricks? If you’re really into a particular aspect of Detroit’s built environment, we’d love to hear about it. 

Hit reply or email me at to let me know.


Herman Kiefer history

Aerial view of a rectangular, seven-story, brown brick building with six perpendicular wings. It is surrounded by empty parking lots, residential neighborhoods and a highway. Taller buildings are in the distance.
The Herman Kiefer complex in 2022. Photo credit: Herman Kiefer Hospital.png by Ab5602, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

With news that the city’s water department is suing Herman Kiefer for unpaid water bills, let’s take a closer look at the historic campus and see what makes it special. 

The Herman Kiefer Hospital’s first two pavilions opened in 1911 and were designed by renowned local architect George D. Mason, who also designed the Masonic Temple. The complex expanded in 1921 with new buildings designed by the even more renowned Albert Kahn, eventually encompassing seven pavilions. The seven-story main building has arched windows on its second and top floor, and gorgeous brick detailing along its facade. 

The city closed the complex in 2013 and then signed a development agreement with Ron Castellano in 2015. The buildings have been cleaned and secured, according to a community benefits update from 2020. But no major work had begun as of November 2021 when Castellano missed a deadline to rehab homes he purchased in the nearby Virginia Park neighborhood. Residents have soured on the projects and the lack of progress.

Aaron (he/him) believes in telling true stories about real people. He doesn’t think there’s anything better than a crisp fall afternoon at the Detroit Jazz Fest.