Restorations Aplenty in Detroit

With the recent highs and lows of the sports teams in Detroit dating back to late September, more and more websites, news services, and publications began looking at Detroit differently. Many wondered if Detroit was on the rebound after a long 50 years of being down. That in fact is true; Detroit is rising and there are plenty of restoration projects taking place in the Corktown and Downtown areas.

Restoration started on the Michigan Central Station this past summer. The plan was to remove and replace the windows, roof, and rid of the asbestos. So far so good at MCS as the whole front entrance of the lower level has no windows. There is no expected finish date or possible tenant. "If we can completely rehab the Michigan Central Station and make it vibrant, with people running in and out of it, then we would have proved that anything can be done in Detroit," says Mouron.

In early November, Matthew "Matty" Mouron, the owner of the building, held a private tour. He brought in some local entrepreneurs, politicians, foundation members, and officials from the Detroit Institute of Arts. The point was to show the progress of the renovations and what can be done on the inside.

He has also hosted architectural firms such as Quinn Evans Architects who specialize in historical preservation. "I think we are talking five years before we... may see a solid (development) plan," says Elisabeth Knibbe, one of the principals at the firm. It looks as if Matty Mouron might awake a sleeping giant with the redevelopment of the Michigan Central Station.

The Corktown neighborhood is also upgrading with the addition of the former Burton Theatre tenants now looking into a former brass foundry at 2051 Rosa Parks Blvd. They lost their lease this past May at the Burton International School at Cass Ave. and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The new theatre, which will be called "Corktown Cinema" will screen "... offbeat, cult and independent movies that challenge the audience and us," says Nathan Faustyn, who is heading the project along with Jeff Else and Brandon Walley. The building they are looking into also houses the offices for Curbed Detroit and the Huffington Post Detroit. The three are looking into raising $15,000 for start up costs and have no projected start time.

Looking at Downtown Detroit, there are a few buildings that are either currently being renovated or plans are in the works. The former Detroit Free Press Building, Broderick Tower, David Whitney Building, and the Grand Army of the Republic Building are all either being currently renovated or in the works to be renovated.

The Free Press Building, as it's known, is looking at a $70 million renovation thanks to developer Leo Phillips. He is working with John Marusich of Marusich Architecture to incorporate the historic character of the building into the new design. They will be maintaining the original marble floors, the character of the corridors among other aspects they want to preserve. Phillips also plans on using the old press area where the papers were published to convert it into an underground parking garage.

"Our intent is to convert this into a multi-use building, with the first floor being retail, the second floor office, and then starting from the third floor, up, were going to put in 115 apartments," says Phillips. They are also looking for tax credits to help with the cost of renovation. So far they have approval from Brownfield Redevelopment Authority for historic tax credits and state tax credits and they also have an application in for enhanced tax credits. There is no estimated start time for renovation for the Albert Kahn-designed building that has been empty since 1987.

The David Broderick Tower on the edge of Grand Circus Park is currently in the process of being renovated from an empty building that used to house offices for dentists and doctors, to one of Downtown Detroit's finest high-rise apartments and lofts. Motown Construction Partners are spearheading the project. The plan is to have the Broderick Tower, which has been empty since 1985, ready by September of 2012. The floor plan for the building uses the first floor as a restaurant, floors 2-4 as commercial office, retail and entertainment space and floors 5-34 as residences.

The David Whitney Building sits just across the street from the David Broderick Tower and it too is looking at renovation. Nothing has started yet but the Roxbury Group, who purchased the building along with Trans Inn Management plan to convert the old office building that has been empty since 2000 into a boutique hotel. They have already secured $1 million from the Downtown Development Authority to buy the building and are looking at raising more money to fund the renovation. The four-story lobby would once again be full of shops and retail while the other 15 floors would be for the hotel.

Finally, the historic Grand Army of the Republic Building, built in 1900, empty since 1982, will finally get a much-needed renovation. The Romanesque style building was bought from the city of Detroit for $220,000 by Mindfield, a media company, in early November. The company plans on occupying the top two floors for office space while leasing out the bottom floor for retail and a restaurant. Plans are to immediately renovate with an opening date in 2013.

Detroit certainly has a long way to go before it becomes a great city like it was in the 1950s, but the renovations of these building prove that there are people out there who want to help and make the city beautiful again.