March 7, 2022
A development team is on tap to turn one of Detroit’s most visible dilapidated buildings into new housing and retail space.
The estimated $134 million conversion of the Fisher Body No. 21 plant near the I-75/I-94 interchange, as currently envisioned, would create 433 apartments as well as retail, commercial and co-working space. The development is being led by a pair of Black business leaders, Gregory Jackson and Richard Hosey, as well as Kevin Lewand, the son of Mayor Mike Duggan’s former top economic development lieutenant, F. Thomas Lewand.
It’s an ambitious vision, attempting to redevelop the hulking century-old city-owned property on Hastings Street at Harper, five blocks east of Woodward Avenue.
“Just as it is hard to overstate the effect of this highly visible Detroit challenge being unmet, it is also hard to overstate the effect the successful redevelopment will have on Detroit’s momentum,” Hosey, who leads Detroit-based Hosey Development LLC, said in a news release. “This transformative project will become a road map for repurposing industrial buildings around the city.”
The plant site has previously had significant levels of contamination, Curbed Detroit reported in 2014, and it sits afield of much of the recent development activity in the city. The press release says things like soil replacement and storage tank removal have been completed to help prepare the site for redevelopment.
Nearby, Detroit-based developer and landlord Christos Moisides owns the building at 601 Piquette. The former Ford Piquette Plant is at 461 Piquette, while the Piquette Square for Veterans, a 150-unit development by Southwest Solutions, is at 317 Piquette.
The Detroit City Council has to approve the sale of the property. The proposed sale price is not yet known.
According to the plan, construction would begin late next year and be completed in 2025, although some initial work would begin next month.
The development team is committing $15 million in equity to the project, according to a city press release. Hosey said 90 percent of the $15 million is from Black sources. Public financing for the project is expected to include Neighborhood Enterprise Zone Act, Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act, brownfield incentives, federal historic tax credits and other layers, according to the release. The development would also have to go through the Community Benefits Ordinance process, which has been the subject of debate at the Detroit City Council recently.
“This project is being done by Detroiters and for Detroiters,” said Jackson, who along with his daughter Anika Jackson Odegbo, runs Jackson Asset Management. “This project is proof of the potential of Detroit, its spirit and its people. We are honored to become stewards of this forgotten piece of the city’s storied past and turn it into a key piece of its future, bringing catalytic investment, quality housing and destination retail to this proud neighborhood.”
According to the city, in addition to the six-story building, the deal includes lots at 991 Harper and 666 Harper, which would be for parking. The development would also include 28,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, plus 15,000 square feet of co-working space. Among the amenities envisioned: A quarter-mile walking track, indoor lounge, fitness center, dog areas and 700-plus parking spaces for both residents, shoppers, and guests.
The city bills the redevelopment as one of the “largest to be led by Black developers in (the) city’s history.”
A $136 million development on the east Detroit riverfront by City Growth Partners LLC, which is led by two Black men, currently is envisioned as 478 apartments. It was first revealed in October 2018 although no construction has started.
The city says 20% of the Fisher Body plant apartment units will be reserved at rates considered affordable.
Housing affordability is a fraught issue in Detroit, in part because whether a unit is deemed affordable is measured based on Area Median Income, a federally designated metric that factors in the household incomes in Detroit’s suburbs, which skew that figure upward for low-income Detroiters. In some cases, that makes even housing that’s considered affordable on a strictly bureaucratic basis unaffordable for some of the city’s poorest residents.
The AMI for the region (and Detroit) is $64,000 for a two-person household and $80,000 for a four-person household. Thirty percent of AMI for a two-person household is $19,200 while a four-person household at 30% AMI is $24,000. Eighty percent of the AMI is $51,200 for a two-person household and $64,000 for a four-person household.
The units, spread across a mix of studio apartments and one- and two-bedroom units, would be available at 80 percent of Area Median Income, the city says.
Discussions have been ongoing about the fate of the Fisher Body No. 21 plant for several years. Crain’s reported in November 2020 that the city was in discussions with an unnamed developer, and a city spokesperson said in August they were “still in talks” with a developer about the property.
Hosey has been active in Detroit development for more than a decade as a developer along with Lansing-based developer Richard Karp in the Capitol Park neighborhood and is a member of the Detroit Historic District Commission, Detroit Land Bank Authority, Downtown Development Authority, and Detroit Housing Commission boards.
Jackson is the chief executive officer of St. Clair Shores-based Prestige Automotive Group and owns the Lafayette Towers apartment buildings in Lafayette Park, consisting of a pair of 22-story buildings that he bought out of foreclosure through Jackson Land Holding Company LLC in November 2012 for what city land records say is about $5.85 million.
Lewand is the founder of Birmingham-based Lewand Building Cos., which includes Lewand Construction, Lewand Development and Lewand Custom Homes. Through affiliates, he also owns a pair of properties on Seward Avenue around the New Center area north of West Grand Boulevard, according to city land records.
Birmingham-based McIntosh Poris Associates is the architecture firm on the project. Southfield-based Bernard Financial Group is working on the project financing.
The city says the plant was designed by Smith Hinchman & Grylls Inc. (now known as the SmithGroup) for the Fisher brothers as their 21st plant, making auto bodies for Cadillac and Buick before the brothers were bought out by General Motors. The property closed in 1984. Carter Color Coat Co. bought the property in 1990 and did industrial paintwork there but the company went out of business in 1993 and shuttered it. The city took ownership in 2000.