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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow Section 106 in Action arrow Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases arrow Michigan: Demolition of Allen Park VA Medical Center

Michigan: Demolition of Allen Park
Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs

Criteria for ACHP Involvement:
  • The proposed action will result in the demolition of a National Register-eligible historic district in its entirety (Criterion 1).
  • The project raises questions regarding the timeliness of Section 106 review and the Department of Veterans Affairs' interpretation of its responsibilities under Section 106 (Criterion 2).


Recent Developments

On May 24, 2001, ACHP staff participated in an onsite consultation meeting regarding demolition of the Allen Park Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC). In attendance were representatives of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), the City of Allen Park, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, four State and local preservation organizations, and the Ford Motor Land Development Corporation (Ford). The meeting provided the first forum for the preservation community to express their concerns to VA and Ford.

Allen Park Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Michigan

 

Allen Park Veterans Affairs Medical Center, MI
(photo courtesy of Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

 

 

 

At the meeting, Ford indicated that it did not have clear plans for the site, but it was initiating planning efforts. Given this, but recognizing the congressional mandate for VA to assist Ford in demolishing the complex, the consulting parties questioned whether Ford might delay total demolition while exploring possible options for preservation during its planning efforts. In addition, the Michigan SHPO, the National Trust, the Michigan Preservation Network, and Preservation Wayne presented VA and Ford with a formal resolution characterizing the proposed mitigation for demolition as “grossly inadequate.”

The resolution proposes instead creating a $2 million historic preservation fund, patterned on several similar funds that have been established. ACHP anticipates further consultation with VA on these issues in the near future.


Background

The Allen Park VAMC was constructed between 1937 and 1939 on land in Allen Park, near Detroit, which was donated to the Federal Government by Henry and Clara Ford. The complex is one of 50 VAMCs developed between 1920 and 1946, which have been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as part of a thematic group. Georgian Revival in design, the eight-building complex is dominated by the main hospital building, the original central portion of which is surrounded by large additions from 1949 and 1961.

In 1986, the VA decided to construct a new VAMC in downtown Detroit. It is unclear to what extent this construction’s foreseeable impact on historic properties at Allen Park VAMC received adequate environmental review at that time. It appears that consideration of any such effects was essentially “postponed” for later review under Section 106 and was not addressed substantively during compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

In 1986, the long range plan for the Allen Park VAMC site was reuse for a new long term care facility with a primary care component. However, by the time that the new Detroit VAMC opened 10 years later, funding had never been allocated for new construction at Allen Park, and VA’s focus had shifted from inpatient to outpatient care. A scaled back nursing home function was accommodated in the new downtown facility, leaving only a limited primary care facility at Allen Park, which utilized only about one-tenth of the complex’s square footage.

The original deed to the Federal Government stipulated that the land would revert to Ford if it ceased to be used for care of veterans. Given the underutilization of the property by VA, State and local representatives entered into discussions with VA and Congressman John D. Dingell regarding the potential or the land to revert to Ford, which would return it to the tax rolls. By the spring of 2000, VA’s preferred alternative was to demolish all buildings on the site and transfer the property to Ford. (The reversion clause does not require specifically that the site be cleared before transfer, but Ford and VA have agreed to that interpretation of its intent.)

VA did not initiate Section 106 consultation with the Michigan SHPO during the discussions regarding the fate of the complex, and it is not clear that the historic significance of the property was fully considered in decisionmaking. Intervening Congressional action then precluded the option of discussing alternatives to demolition during Section 106 review. The Veterans Benefits and Health Care Improvement Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-419) included a provision requiring VA to enter into a contract with Ford to demolish the Allen Park complex and remediate the site’s hazardous materials. The legislation authorizes VA to pay Ford up to $14 million to cover costs. President Clinton signed the legislation into law on November 1, 2000.

In January, 2001, VA initiated consultation pursuant to Section 106. Proposed mitigation for demolition of the complex included archiving of historic records; consultation with the Michigan SHPO on a commemorative flagpole and memorial called for in the legislation; and allowing the Allen Park Historical Society to salvage architectural elements. ACHP elected to join the consultation following a request from the Michigan SHPO.


Policy Highlights

VA controls a significant number of historic resources and must seek to balance their stewardship against changing residential and health care needs of veterans. Unfortunately, the agency has a limited number of professional cultural resource staff to meet this need. Too frequently, as illustrated in this case, historic preservation is not integrated into decisionmaking. Reversing this trend is important, since aging of the infrastructure and shifts in patient care policies and expectations will doubtless result in a growing number of cases sharing the fundamental issues seen at Allen Park.

Staff contact: Druscilla Null


Updated June 6, 2002

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