DETROIT – Once the tallest building in Detroit, the Penobscot building continues to deteriorate according to a report in the Detroit Free Press (DFP) on February 8.
Located at 657 Griswold Street in downtown Detroit, the 47-floor 1928 building “has been racking up scores of blight violations in recent years,” DFP reported, noting that it “has been without running water since late January and lost power for three days last week, disrupting some virtual proceedings for Wayne County Circuit Court, which houses computer servers in the building.”
The Penobscot’s elevators are often out of order and on Feb. 8, “when frigid outside temperatures were in the teens, the entrance lobby lacked heat, and toilets throughout the building were backed up and nearly overflowing with excrement,” DFP reported.
“You can barely walk into the bathroom because it stinks so bad," said attorney Stephen Lovell, whose law firm Ernst Charara & Lovell is a tenant, DFP reported. “Each toilet is just like filled to the brim with toilet paper and waste — and it stinks. With no running water, apparently some people don’t really care, so it’s just like one mess on top of another.”
Since 2012, “a local affiliate of Toronto-based real estate firm Triple Properties, belonging to Greek-Canadian businessman Andreas Apostolopoulos,” owns the Penobscot, DFP reported, adding that “the firm also once owned the now-demolished Pontiac Silverdome.”
Representatives for Triple Properties did not respond to several requests for comment at press time.
Jessica Parker, chief enforcement officer for Detroit's Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department, told the DFP on Feb. 8 that “the city's law department is preparing to file a nuisance abatement lawsuit over the building's growing list of problems.”
According to city records, “the department last year issued 177 blight violation tickets and fines to Triple Properties for the Penobscot,” DFP reported.
"The owner has addressed some of the issues inspectors have found but has not addressed all of the emergency orders," Parker said in a statement, DFP reported. "No judgments have been rendered yet on these tickets, as they are still working their way through the appeals and hearings process.”
In January 2020, an elevator fire led to the building being evacuated, and Lovell said that “the few working elevators continue to regularly break down, creating major inconveniences and safety hazards,” DFP reported.
Lovell also told DFP that “he and other tenants are constantly reporting about various building problems to building management, including the lack of any air conditioning in his law firm all last summer, but getting things fixed takes a long time.”
“They tend to blame the vendors," Lovell said, DFP reported. “They say ‘Oh, I can’t get someone to come and fix the elevators, there’s only a few people who do it and we’re having trouble getting someone to come,' or 'We’re waiting for a part right now and the vendor hasn’t given us the part.’”
A power outage at the Penobscot began on Feb. 2 and lasted until Feb. 4, DFP reported, noting that “the power loss affected the circuit court's computer servers and the ability to conduct virtual court proceedings, and appeared to coincide with a burst pipe in the building.”
“We essentially could not operate fully during that time," said Erin Lincoln, deputy court administrator for the court's Family Domestic Section, which has an office in the building, DFP reported. “We were not able to provide hearings or provide any services because the offices were without power, and it did affect the rest of the court."
“One former large Penobscot tenant, Strategic Staffing Solutions, left in late 2019 and early 2020 for a new location in the Fisher Building in New Center, DFP noted, adding that “Crain's Detroit reported that the staffing firm went on to sue Triple Properties over various allegedly building problems, including non-working heat, elevators and vermin droppings.”
Lovell said that “considering the slew of problems in the building, he was surprised when Penobscot management recently upped the rent for his law office,” DFP reported.
"They’ve done no concessions in rent, people in the elevators all the time tell me that they’re leaving, but I don’t know if they do or not,” Lovell told DFP.
The Penobscot building “is actually three interconnected buildings sharing the same name,” DFP reported, noting that “Triple Properties bought the Penobscot in May 2012 for about $5 million from an investment firm that acquired the property out of foreclosure.”