Detroit: A City on the Rise: Grand Circus Park

BY CHRIS ZADOROZNY, Staff Columnist

One of the areas in Detroit that is seeing some great development, especially in the Downtown area, is Grand Circus Park. One week after talking about the Somerset CityLoft and retail shopping in the downtown area; living in the city, the development of more businesses and a hotel are reshaping what used to be one of the larger theatre districts in the city. Detroit still has the largest theatre district in the country, but the buildings around Grand Circus Park now have new life, or at least will have new life very soon. A few of the buildings included in the revival of Grand Circus Park are the Broderick Tower, Madison Theatre Building, and the David Whitney Building (not to be confused with the Whitney Restaurant).

The Broderick Tower, once called the Eaton Tower is located on the corner of Woodward at 10 Witherell St. It was built by Theodore Horation Eaton Jr., an importer and dealer in chemicals and dyes in 1926 and opened two years later. The building stands 368 feet high encompassing 35 floors. It was built to house offices for doctors, dentists, and businesses among many others.

Eaton owned the building until David Broderick, who was an insurance broker, bought the tower in 1945 and renamed it after himself. He created the Sky Top Club on the 33rd floor as a private club to entertain guests and clients until his death in 1957. The building would change ownership a couple of times between 1963 and 1976 until a family by the last name of Higgins bought the building and still have ownership today.

The Broderick Tower to the left, and David Whitney Building to the right in Grand Circus Park

The Broderick Tower is a key building on the edge of Grand Circus Park leading toward the center of the city at Campus Martius, and it is currently being renovated into a mixed use building for residential living, retail, offices and restaurants. The crew that is handling the restoration and renovation of the historic building is Motown Construction Partners L.P., which is led by Fred Beal, owner of J.C. Beal Construction, along with Kraemer Design Group, Strategic Energy Systems, Soils and Materials Engineers, and NTH Engineers.

The first four floors will contain retail, business offices and restaurants. Floors 5-34 will be residential with high-end apartments, lofts and suites at the top. The renovation began with the financing secured in December of 2010, and the expected finish date of September 2012. You can find all the information needed about the up and coming new Broderick Tower and http://www.brodericktower.com.

The Madison Theatre Building sits right next to the Broderick Tower at 1555 Broadway St., and is currently owned by Quicken Loans Chairman, Dan Gilbert. He has a major prescience in the city since moving many of his employees from the Livonia offices, to downtown, but we will talk about that later in the month. The building was built separately from the theatre itself and was designed by renowned architect C. Howard Crane, who also designed the Fox Theatre, Olympia Stadium, Fillmore (State Theatre), Detroit Opera House, and Orchestra Hall among others.

It was built-in 1917 and had a capacity of 1,806 people. The theatre had a great run as one of the best in the city, and was even the first theatre in Michigan to show a full-length talking picture 10 years after it opened. The show was “The Jazz Singer,” and more than half a million people were able to see it within three months. As the years wore on and more cinemas and movie theatres opened in the suburbs, the theatre district died and only a few remained. Unfortunately, the theatre portion of the Madison building was not saved and demolished in 2000, with a surface level parking lot now sitting where the theatre once stood.

Luckily the office building portion was saved and the ground floor of the building has been in use since being bought by Lawson Reality in the early 21st century. Angelina’s Italian Bistro occupies the ground floor, Witherell St. side, while Stub Hub occupies the Broadway St. entrance. The upper floors are now being renovated thanks to Quicken Loans, who purchased the building from Broadway Property Partners LLC; in early 2011 has plans to bring more employees downtown to work in the building.

The Madison Theatre Building

Gilbert also has his first tenant signed to the building, Skidmore Studios, a graphic design company that plans to occupy 10,000 sq ft. of office space for 23 employees, who until recently had their offices in Royal Oak. The building still has office space available and with Gilbert at the helm, the building should be filled quickly. To learn more about the Madison Theatre Building, visit http://www.historicdetroit.org and search Madison Theatre Building.

The final building that is going to be key to the revival of Grand Circus Park is the David Whitney Building. It is located at 1553 Woodward Ave. on the corner of Washington Blvd. It was built-in 1915 with 19 floors and renovated in 1959 all for office space. It has a four-story lobby and was named after the lumber baron of the area, David Whitney. After rough times in the city, tenants abandoned the building and it has been empty since 2000. Up until recently, there were no plans for renovation but with the recent boom of hotels and upscale apartments and lofts being renovated and built-in the city, one group hopped on the bandwagon and thought of the Whitney Building as a great mixed use project.

Roxbury Group and Trans Inn Management both bought into the building, along with the Detroit Downtown Development Authority (DDDA), have plans to renovate the building into a high-end boutique hotel, along with retail, office space and residences. The plan is to have the first floor as commercial use, second, third and fourth floor as retail, fifth and sixth floors as office space and the rest as hotel and residential. Construction has yet to start, although is projected to start soon with the finished product completed by 2013. To learn more about the David Whitney Building just go to http://www.wikipedia.org and search David Whitney Building.

All of three of these buildings will hold a special place in the development of Grand Circus Park and will hopefully start a new era that spurs more development around the downtown area. In next week’s article, we will look at the Detroit Institute of Arts and Detroit Library and the development around that area.

Check out my article on The Michigan Journal

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