Public Notice: NEH Section 106 Review - Michigan Opera Theatre

July 28, 2021
 
PUBLIC NOTICE:
 
Regarding the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Section 106 Review of Michigan Opera Theatre’s Detroit Opera House, Infrastructure Revisions to Improve Accessibility and Enhance Educational Spaces.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has offered the Michigan Opera Theatre, a Challenge Infrastructure and Capacity Building grant (CHA-276855) for improvements to the Detroit Opera House. NEH is an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. This public notice is issued as part of NEH’s responsibilities under 36 C.F.R. Part 800, the regulations which implement Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, as amended, 16 U.S.C. § 470.

NEH, a funding agency, is required by regulation to identify and assess the effects of any proposed actions on historic properties. If any proposed action will have an adverse effect on historic resources, NEH works with the appropriate parties to seek ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any adverse effects.  Additionally, the Section 106 regulations require NEH to consider the views of the public on preservation issues when making final decisions that affect historic properties.

The Michigan Opera Theatre’s proposed project at the Detroit Opera House, located at 1526 Broadway St, Detroit, MI 48226, is an independent phase of planned long term improvements to the facility. Work supported by NEH involves:

1. Erection of an exterior elevator tower to address accessibility issues will be constructed abutting the building’s eastern wall and upon the adjacent surface parking lot.
2. Replacement of the current HVAC units on the building’s roof with new units of approximately the same dimensions that provide more rapid air turnover within the building.
3. Construction of two restrooms (including wheelchair accessibility) within an area currently used as a non-public break room.
4. Replacement of some auditorium seating with wheelchair accessible seating.

The Detroit Opera House is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NHRP) under Criterion C and is a contributing building within the Grand Circus Park Historic District (NHRP Ref# 83000894). The building was originally designed and constructed in 1922 as a movie palace, The Capitol Theatre. The architect, C. Howard Crane, was noted for creating acoustically superior spaces after having completed the Majestic Theatre and Orchestra Hall. While the Capitol Theatre was originally intended to be a performance venue for movies, its lavish interior was heavily influenced by the grand opera houses of Europe. The restoration and transformation of the Capitol Theatre (1993-1996) into the Detroit Opera House which included expansion of the original footprint of the building toward the Grand Circus side to accommodate a very deep stage for opera performances.

NEH has determined that the proposed undertaking of the exterior elevator tower will have an adverse effect in accordance with 36 CFR § 800.5(a)(1). On May 17, 2021, Martha MacFarlane-Faes, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) indicated that the proposed new stairs and elevator tower of the overall undertaking will have an adverse effect on the Detroit Opera House. The SHPO stated “As proposed the new stair/elevator tower is not consistent with the historic character of the Opera House and would diminish the qualities and characteristics that make the property eligible for listing.”

Given that the adverse effect is limited to the stair and elevator tower, NEH has determined that the other aspects of the project do not prevent compliance with Section 106 and do not restrict the subsequent consideration of alternatives to avoid, minimize or mitigate the undertaking's adverse effects on historic properties.

The NEH will work with the SHPO, the Michigan Opera Theater, and other consulting parties, and the public to develop a Memorandum of Agreement to mitigate the adverse effect to the historic property.

As required by Section 106, NEH is providing the public with information about this project, as well as an opportunity to comment on any knowledge of, or concerns with, historic properties in the proposed project area, and issues relating to the project’s potential effects on historic properties.  Comments may be submitted to the NEH by e-mail to FPO@neh.gov.  The deadline for submitting comments is August 27, 2021.