By Audrey LaForest
Private investment from the state’s development community is helping to rewrite the narrative for what Detroit will look like in the future. Within the next 10 years, local real estate mavens and developers are envisioning a walkable, diverse and connected city, where residents have access to retail, cultural activities and commercial centers all within a short distance from where they live.
In 2016, Detroit saw development deals ranging from the Detroit Pistons’ plans to move back downtown from Auburn Hills to Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert’s plans for a 20-story office tower and a 16-story residential tower near Campus Martius that will be known as the Monroe Block.
While major developments have had a place in Detroit since the 1990s (e.g., the city’s three casinos, Ford Field and Comerica Park, and construction of the Compuware building), development today is taking on roles both big and small.
“The difference now is that the city really isn’t relying on mega projects, but is relying on dozens and even hundreds of small, more organic projects that really have to do with creating community and creating neighborhoods,” said Peter Cummings, principal at The Platform, a development firm dedicated to rebuilding the city.
Cummings and business partner Dietrich Knoer are leading development projects throughout the city such as the mixed-use apartment complex, Third and Grand.
In March, the company broke ground on the first phase of Baltimore Station, a $7.5 million mixed-use development at the Baltimore Street stop of the QLine streetcar that includes sidewalk retail and restaurant destinations. The second phase of the project includes an additional 150 residential units and 20,000 square feet of retail. The project should be completed by 2019.
Additionally, The Platform team has invested in the redevelopment of the Fisher and Albert Kahn buildings, which the group purchased as part of a $12.2 million deal. Plans for the New Center-based historic landmark buildings include office, entertainment and retail components for the Fisher Building, and retail, office and residential spaces for the Kahn Building. Each building could see in excess of $50 million in investment for the redevelopment, Cummings said.
The Platform is also committed to the city’s neighborhoods, particularly in the Islandview, Livernois and Six Mile Road areas, and Brightmoor, where Cummings purchased five properties for just over $79,000. Rehab of the Brightmoor properties is underway.
“For the recovery that’s occurring in the city of Detroit to be sustainable, it needs to be far more inclusive than it has been,” Cummings said. “There are swaths of the population that have not been participating in the recovery, and they need to participate, and a lot of them are found in the neighborhoods.”
Welcome to Paradise
Near the heart of the city, five teams of developers are heavily vested in the Paradise Valley Cultural and Entertainment District — a $52 million investment within the area formerly known as Harmonie Park.
The projects include Hastings Place, a 60-unit loft apartment with retail and office space and a five-floor parking deck, led by Michigan Chronicle publisher Hiram Jackson and Queen Lillian Development; and Harmonie Club Hotel, a 25- to 30- room hotel in an East Grand River building currently occupied by the Carr Center, led by Patricia Cole of Cole Financial Services Inc. and developer Roger Basmajian.
Other projects for the district are the Paradise Valley Jazz Club and a 16,000 square foot expansion of architecture firm Hamilton Anderson Associates led by the firm’s president and co-owner, Rainy Hamilton; and the addition of residential space above La Casa de la Habana cigar bar led by bar owner Ismail Houmani, who purchased the building on Randolph Street for $1.17 million.
Dennis Archer Jr., president of Archer Corporate Services and chair of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s board of directors, purchased property at 1407 and 1427 Randolph Street in partnership with investors at Gotham Capital Partners. The team is planning a $2.75 million mixed use redevelopment, which will include a cocktail lounge and office space for up to six tenants. Archer said he anticipates his part of the Paradise Valley redevelopment could be completed as early as the fall.
“We want this to be a world-class destination, where there’s art, there’s culture, there’s commerce going on, there’s a creative class there, and there’s world-class hospitality — whether it’s a jazz bar, a lounge, a restaurant or a coffee shop,” Archer said.
Connecting the City
It has been just under two years since architect and urban planner Maurice Cox was appointed director of Detroit’s Planning and Development Department, but he is already unleashing strategies to get the city’s neighborhoods that lie outside of the 7.2 square miles of greater downtown involved.
“A lot of Detroit’s historic neighborhoods were structured for walkability … but over the decades, they’ve fallen into disrepair,” Cox said. “One of the initiatives that we’ve focused on is trying to make those commercial corridors walkable again.”
To get these “neighborhood-serving Main Streets” back — you can already see them popping up on streets like Kercheval and Agnes in West Village, for example — Cox envisions integrating other forms of mobility and transit infrastructure such as protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, tree canopies, improved lighting and, most importantly, small businesses that are able to fill a void in neighborhood services.
This year, Cox and his team are deploying a set of six coordinated revitalization strategies, one of which focuses on the Fitzgerald neighborhood tucked within the Livernois-McNichols corridor. Another includes a new streetscape plan for the Livernois Avenue of Fashion.
The Fitzgerald development strategy includes rehabbing “dozens and dozens” of homes, Cox said, and turning more than 300 vacant lots into a variety of passive and active green spaces, which will include a neighborhood park at its center and a greenway for bicycles and pedestrians that will connect the University of Detroit Mercy with Marygrove College.
On the city’s eastside, Cox, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. recently announced a framework for the east riverfront, which will include an expansion of public space, a call for proposals to renovate vacant buildings, and a riverfront promenade that will complete the connection from the Renaissance Center to the MacArthur Bridge at Belle Isle.
“(Developers) talk about the ‘missing middle’ density in Detroit — the townhouses, the row houses, the mid rise, the courtyard buildings — all of those types that are bigger than a single family, but smaller than a high rise,” Cox said. “Detroit has enormous potential to increase those options, and I think those are going to be the opportunities for development in neighborhoods in addition to restoring some of the single family housing stock to its original splendor.”
Audrey LaForest is a metro Detroit freelance writer.
Read more from this issue below:
Dan Gilbert Taking Detroit to Overdrive
Help Wanted: Closing Michigan’s Skilled Trades Gap
The Ilitch Touch: Transforming Detroit’s Downtown