City Hall sale to Artspace OK’d

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — The process of selling City Hall to a non-profit artists’ organization has begun.

The City Council April 4 approved a motion to allow Dearborn to create a letter of intent to sell the City Hall campus to Artspace, a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization created to help artists find affordable locations to live and work. The organization has previously established artist communities in more than 30 areas including Chicago, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh.

During a special meeting April 4, City Councilors approved the resolution for Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. and Corporation Counsel to enter into negotiations with Artspace,

During the meeting, Councilors Mark Shooshanian, Robert Abraham, David Bazzy and Suzanne Sareini supported the letter of intent.

Council President Tom Tafelski opposed the letter and Councilors Nancy Hubbard and Brian O’Donnell were not present.

Abraham said the authorized negotiations include providing Artspace with contractual control of the City Hall complex in the form of a purchase agreement or letter of intent.

“This type of contract would allow Artspace to potentially qualify for significant Federal or State grant funding for the purchase and renovation of the Artspace project,” Abraham said. “An appraisal and the valuation by the city assessor will be required to set the fair market value for the sale of the property.”

On March 30, Artspace sent a letter to the city indicating their interest in purchasing City Hall, O’Reilly said.

Wendy Holmes, Artspace senior vice president of consulting and new projects, said she is extremely excited about the possibility of the project.

“This will be our first project in Michigan,” Holmes said. “This would be our first city hall renovation.”

Holmes said the benefits of moving into City Hall include its expansive indoor and outdoor space, including a park area.

“We need to visually make it clear that (the building) is a gateway of some kind through signage, more public art in the park, or a minitare sculpture garden,” she said.

There have not been any major plans to renovate, Holmes said, because they are waiting on the city’s terms and conditions.

O’Reilly, who has been a proponent of Artspace,said with the letter of intent, he is trying to move the negotiations into the next step.

With the letter in hand, Artspace can seek funding from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

“It is not saying we have reached a deal or agreement,” he said. “It is evidencing our intent to do so.”

O’Reilly said Artspace could attract people to the district and save the city money.

East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority Director Michael Bewick said Artspace does a good job converting underused, abandoned or deserted buildings and turning them into up-to code structures.

“They help improve the neighborhood by attracting other businesses similar to theirs,” Bewick said.

The EDDDA has worked closely with Artspace and the city, supporting the move because of their potential positive effect on the city, Bewick said.

“Let’s say there is a coffee shop that opens up, (people) will come to visit a friend or see an exhibition, gallery or performance and they stop and have lunch or a bite to eat,” he said. “If they are driving by that is one thing but if they are parked, there is a chance they will visit neighboring businesses.”

O’Reilly said the idea is for the betterment of the city.

“I have been around City Hall most of my life,” he said. “My father worked there, it is something that is very important in the community and I am not losing sight of that. We are actually looking at making it better for a long time to come.”

The city has not officially decided on a location to move their offices if Artspace purchases City Hall.

(Sherri Kolade can be reached at