BY CHRIS ZADOROZNY, Staff Columnist
A building that was the main focus of last week’s article was an old factory that was repurposed into lofts and studio space for artists and artisans. This week we will look at a couple of buildings in the Downtown area that are looking to be renovated this year.
The former home of the Detroit Free Press was bought in late 2011 and is looking to start renovation this year. The Free Press Building, as it is known, was built in 1925 by renowned Detroit architect Albert Khan. It was home number 13 for the Detroit Free Press until 1998 when they moved into the Detroit News Building a few blocks down.
It is located at 321 West Lafayette Blvd between Washington and Cass. It is six stories with a 14-story tower that housed the executives of the Free Press. The owner who commissioned the building to be built, E.D. Stair, was a member of the Detroit Club, a renowned exclusive club for many of the city’s high ranking citizens. It is directly next door and connected on the third floor.
It has a lot of historic elements, including the entrance, and many reliefs of famous Americans including Benjamin Franklin, George Custer and Horace Greeley. Leo Phillips, who bought the Fort Shelby Hotel and helped redevelop that building into apartments and a hotel, bought the Free Press Building too. “Our intent is to convert this into a multi-use building, with the first floor being retail, second floor office, and starting from the third floor up we are going to put in 115 apartments,” said Phillips.
They also plan on putting a parking structure in the basement where the presses of the paper once were. There is an estimated $70 million going into the building, along with many tax credits because it is such a historic building. There is no update on when the building will open or when it will take applications for residents. Having the Free Press Building renovated gives the city something else to look forward to, an empty building that will have tenants and residents instead of another eyesore.
Another building that is going to be repurposed is over near the Greektown area of Downtown. The University of Detroit-Mercy just recently bought a former firehouse. There is no exact date on when it was built, but many speculate that it was the early 1900s. It still boasts its old red firehouse doors, and the lookout tower. It is located at 585 Larned Street.
The two-story facility will house 6,000 square feet of space for the ten legal aid clinics for the school. UDM Law has said they will keep the historic look of the building. It is expected to be done by this December.
The Grand Army of the Republic Building is located in a part of Downtown that has seen many historic and older buildings torn down in favor of parking lots, at 1942 Grand River on a section of triangular concrete surrounded by road on all sides. It was built by Julius Hess in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It was built for all of the Civil War Veterans as a hangout pretty much. As the veterans grew older, the building became more and more empty. It closed in 1982, and has been empty ever since.
It was sold to Ilitch Holdings in 1992 and Mr. Ilitch, who spent $214 million a couple of weeks ago on one baseball player, let the building sit empty. The city of Detroit didn’t like that and sold it just recently to David and Tom Carleton, brothers who operate Mindfield Pictures, a media company based on the other side of Downtown Detroit. They bought it for $220,000 and immediately began renovating on the first of November.
They secured the roof to protect from water and snow in the winter. After a $2-$3 million renovation, it is expected to open sometime in 2013. Mindfield will make its headquarters on the top two floors while the bottom two will be leased to a restaurant and retail. The brothers also plan to have a Civil War Memorial incorporated into the building in some way to honor the veterans who spent much of their time in their old age.
Finally, in another recent development, Dan Gilbert, who was the focus of the series earlier in the fall semester, has done more to become one of the big players in Detroit. He has bought many other buildings downtown since we last mentioned him. He now has bought The Wright-Kay Building, located at 1500 Woodward, the Lane-Bryant Building, located at 1520 Woodward, and the Arts League of Michigan Building, located at 1528 Woodward. These three buildings are all on the same block. It has been said he wants to use these buildings as lofts, offices, and retail.
He also owns the Dime Building, First National Building, the Chase Tower, and now the former Federal Reserve Building, right next to the Dime. He is quickly becoming a large landowner in Detroit and is looking to fill all of these buildings with tenants. He hopes to fill the Federal Reserve Building with one tenant. He was able to announce this on the day of the official opening of the Madison Building, the former Madison Theatre Building this past week. He filled it with start-up companies, anchored by Skidmore Studios.
Gilbert is looking to fill a part of the Dime Building with Chrysler LLC, and hopes to revitalize Woodward with many web and digital companies, by calling it “Webward Avenue.” In revitalizing many of these buildings and more Detroit will have a great tax base, lots of tenants and once again be a great city.