Detroit: A City on the Rise: Russell Industrial Center

BY CHRIS ZADOROZNY, Staff Columnist

There are people out there who view Detroit as a rundown, dangerous city. We have old factories here in the city, many of which have been abandoned and torn down. One of the most famous buildings is the old Packard Motor Car Company Plant. That, unfortunately is very rundown and falling apart. There is some good news though. The Russell Industrial Center (RIC) is one of those manufacturing buildings that have been saved.

The Russell Industrial Center just off of I-75

The RIC is located at 1600 Clay Street, bordering I-75 to the west, and just due north of I-94. The Center was built in 1915, for John William Murray, and was completed in 1925. It was designed by Albert Khan, one of the most famous architects of Detroit. Murray wanted to use the building for auto-body manufacturing for the growing business. The building struggled to stay afloat even before it was completed. Business was suffering throughout its history, with Murray’s company merging many times. Murray sold the building in 1970 to Leona Helmsley, followed by another sale in 1981 to Dyson-Kissner-Moran Corp. (DKM), and another in 1991 to Wintor-Swan, a printing company. Finally, in 1998 the building became vacant after a tornado and flooding damaged it. In 2003, Dennis Kefallinos bought the building and renovated it, hoping it would become lofts and studio space.

Kefallinos’ bet paid off. He renovated the seven-building complex for $1 million. The complex now has more than one million square feet of space for studios and lofts for artists, creative professionals, and businesses. According to the building’s website, http://www.ricdetroit.org, “…studios range in size from 1000 to 7000 square feet each. Of the 2.2 million square feet, 650,000 are in use, with another 500,000 available for use. Infrastructure work is planned for another million square feet of space.”

When the building first opened up, it wasn’t called the Russell Industrial Center. It was the J.W. Manufacturing Company. The company merged in 1924 with three others to form the Murray Body Corporation. From then, until the late 1960s and 1970s when printing became the main use for the buildings, the Murray Body Company was one of the main manufacturers for Ford and Mercury. The company also produced parts for Packard, Lincoln, Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge, and many other non-famous companies. In the last year of production it produced parts for Hudson-Jet and Aero Willys.

When the printing companies took over in the 1960s, over 130 companies occupied the building complex and printed. This is when Detroit was known as the printing capital of the Midwest for a short time.

This building complex has started a new trend in Detroit, urban development. The current tenants of the complex include: the Russell Gallery (Building 3), Art Studios, Stacey Ellis, the co-owner of B. Black Apparel, Madeline Stillwell, artist of Detroit Industrial Projects, Motor City Movie House, Architecture Practice, Woodworking Shop and Hand Crafted Furniture, Antiques, Kitchen and Bath Remodeling, Clothing, Furniture, Sewing, Photography Studios, Import, Export, a Health Food Store, a Performing Arts Studio, a Candle Shop, Custom Signs, Printer, and Helderop Pipe Organs.

The RIC also hosts a couple of events each year. The Russell Bazaar is an indoor marketplace, hosted by the tenants of the building on the first weekend of each month, showcasing art and wares. It brings in many people to look at and purchase what the tenants are selling. For those that want to sell their work, they can rent a booth each month.

A mural on one of the sides of the 7-building complex

Another event is the People’s Art Festival, which is held annually. Last year it was in August. The event is free and open to the public and features different pieces of art, music, merchandise, food, and entertainment. It is sponsored by many local non-profits and business to cover the costs.

What the RIC is doing is taking a former manufacturing plant, something that Detroit has an excess of, and turning it into something the community can use. Go and check out this place, because this is something that Detroit can use to look at and say, “Hey, the Russell Industrial Center is an old re-used manufacturing plant. If they can turn an old building into something plausible, why can’t we do that for the other ones?”

You can check out their website at www.ricdetroit.org. You can also contact their main office at (313) 872-4000 or email at centerric@aol.com. If you would like to contact their webmaster, Nick Polifroni, his email address isnick@ricdetroit.org.

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