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Allan

Detroit Life Building to be Renovated

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A new sign has gone up on the Detroit Life Building on Park Avenue announcing the renovation of the 11-story Ilitch-owned building.

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That is sooo great to hear...I did see the tree on the roof dissappear and the roof was re-papered? I dont know they were up there doing something, and even went as far as a boom one day...I love that building...I call dibs on a loft apartment on the top floor :)

wink wink Allan :)

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I hope this is the real deal, because I'm skeptical to say the very least. I dream, one day, of Park Avenue becoming what it once was...and better. I could see lots of great infill mid-rises going in that area. And though rare, maybe a few spin-off businesses will set up do to it being so close to the MGM.

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The Detroit Life Building was completed in 1923 and designed by Arnold & Shreve, a small architecture firm out of Chicago. The Detroit Life Insurance Company occupied four of the building's ten floors. Once the firm left the building, it was renamed the "Detroit Building," the name the building has retained since then.

Despite being abandoned for the past 30 years, the building has not been heavily scavenged. It has suffered from water damage, though that has been mostly stopped, thanks in part to the new roof that went on a few months back.

For interior photos, see this link.

Mn_body, don't you want the 9th floor, with the arched windows? If you don't want the 9th floor, I'll take it.

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My only critique of this building is that I wish it was built taller. You can almost tell that it wants to be taller. A good ten more floors, and it would have been perfect. For some reason, it just looks like a scaled-back structure, to me.

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Good news that such a beautiful building is getting redone. I just hope this isn't some temporary stunt to appease tourists and reporters who happen to wander over to west Foxtown for some reason.

And dig that cornice! Glad to see that one managed to escape the dreaded fifties... -_-

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The sign is not a Super Bowl decoration to make people think the building is being renovated. Fred Beal wouldn't have his name on the sign if it was not something serious....he has a reputation to protect. It wouldn't look very good if he attached his name to all kinds of abandoned buildings but never actually did any work on them.

JC Beal is working hard to establish a good reputation in Detroit. They recently started a new company, BEAL Inc., a company that specializes in interior demolition for historic building rehabs. They've completed work on the Iodent Building, and are currently working on the Research Lofts, 1403 Woodward/Aizer Building, Broderick Tower, & Como's, among other projects. Obviously attaching a meaningless sign to the Detroit Building would be counterproductive for JC Beal.

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Oh, I wasn't aware it was a Beal project--nobody had mentioned it previously! Good to hear a quality company has been attached to the building.

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Yes, JC Beal is involved with the Detroit Life Building project.

Most people are skeptical about all of this, simply because it is the Ilitch family. After all, they haven't really done anything except buy plywood and paint for their buildings for the past 15 years. We've all seen the demolition by neglect that has occured over the past years in all their buildings. We've all heard the rumors about the Olympia Stadium clone that supposedly is going where the UA is. We've heard, at one time or another, that each building they own is coming down for a landscaped, gravel parking lot.

This new activity with the Detroit Life Building is thanks to Atanas Ilitch, the president of Olympia Development, the development arm of Ilitch Holdings. While I have not met him personally, several people I know have, and they've all said the same thing: Atanas feels that his family's reputation as slumlords is not deserved, and wants to change it. He has long been the only proactive person in the family...the rest of them just sit in their offices above the Fox Theater and bicker with each other all day. This is one step in the right direction for them. While this is the second smallest of their abandoned buildings, this is a HUGE step for them given their past history. For once, though, it is a step in the right direction.

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I have spoken and met in person with Atanas a handful of times, in my efforts to attain the GAR Bldg, and he seems very comitted to changing the image of his family's property holdings. He spoke about having pride in community and in your organization, and that is something I would not expect from an Illitch.

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This is all good to hear. And, I didn't mean to disrespect J.C. Beal, but I don't have the convenience of knowing them like you do, Allan. It's good to hear they are trying to maintain a good reputation, because so many other Detroit-area developers/redevelopers could really care less what people think of them, as long as they can leech off of the city.

It's also good to hear that at least on of Ilitch children has a firm head on his shoulders. Hopefully, this bodes well for Olympia Entertainment. What worries me is who's going to get Ilitch Holdings, Inc.

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Sounds good. Hopefully this isn't the one and only attempt the Illitches have at changing the slumlord image.

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I thought I heard angels singing! :)

This area is a gold mine the way it is. If we can sneak redevelopments like the Detroit Building in and occupy them, I think this will be more obvious.

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I'm really excited about this. It's one of my favorite buildings, and I love that awesome cornice as well.

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Could it actually be possible that the Park Ave area might actually be a vibrant area in a year or so? Would anyone have ever guessed that 5 years ago?

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I would say that it is possible. Centaur is a very popular spot, as is the Town Pump across the street. Two bars will be going in the Cliff Bells Building. The Detroit Life Building would be the perfect spot for the Ilitches to open up a couple restaurants and/or bars.

That leaves the Colony Club, Blenheim Apartments, Charlevoix Hotel, and Park Avenue Building vacant.

The Colony Club is being redone to host a Super Bowl party. If I remember correctly, the building is for sale. Unlike many buildings, it does not need much work to make it occupiable again.

The Blenheim Apartments are pretty cool. The original intent was to tear them down to provide parking for the Detroit Building, but according to my sources, that may not be happening after all. I'm not really sure what the Ilitches would do with the building. The building would make for some interesting high-end condos...it was a pretty swanky place in its day. I know that some attempts at restoration in the building had been made prior to the Ilitches receiving the building from the city in the Fox Theater deal.

The owner of the Park Avenue Building & Charlevoix Hotel does intend to renovate both properties. The Park Avenue will be done first, since it requires less work. He intended to get the building's ground floor space operational by Super Bowl, but it does not appear that it's going to happen. The plan is to ultimately have lofts on the upper floors. Unlike the Kales Building, these will be true lofts, and will cater to the WSU student population. He is reluctant to use grants or things like historic tax credits, & is doing work as he has the money to do it, so progress on these two structures will be slow.

I am fairly confident in saying that we will see a new hockey arena being constructed off Park Avenue in the next few years. This would only add vibrance to the area and would fill that huge gap of open parking lots in the process.

There are a few problems though. At night the street lights seldom work. The bums who hang around in the area will break into your car at night to see what they can find. This is especially a problem in this particular area of downtown. Those people I know who live in the Kales & park on the street leave their doors unlocked at night so that they don't have to deal with replacing broken windows all the time. Hopefully once Cliff Bells opens the bums will be less likely to hang around that area. Also, some new streetscaping would do wonders for the area.

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Allan, why would the owner of the Park and Charlevoix be wary of using historic tax credits and the like? Is it becauses they come with a few strings attached? Most developers apply for those before they do anything else.

I must say, the entire corridor can look abandoned at night from the the Cass Park area when you look at it for the sole fact of the sometimes on/sometimes off lighting. Few places in the city creep me out at night quite like Park Avenue when the street lights aren't working.

This is one place downtown that needs and extra police presence.

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Allan, why would the owner of the Park and Charlevoix be wary of using historic tax credits and the like? Is it becauses they come with a few strings attached? Most developers apply for those before they do anything else.
Yeah, he does not want to be limited by additional rules that tell him what he can and cannot do with his properties. That said, he does intend to restore the original features that exist in the Park Avenue. He says that the lobby of the Park Avenue far surpasses the lobby of the Kales. He said that he'd take me on a tour of the building as soon as he got the insurance issues cleared up. From what I gather though, that is taking longer than expected.

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Here is a photo of Park Avenue, circa 1915

ParkAve19101920.jpg

Here is the subject of this thread in the 1940s. Note the cornice of the Blenheim Apartments on the right side of the photo.

detlifebldg_resized.jpg

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I'm glad that the Blenheim apartments "will not be torn down." for parking. Though it almost seems like this building wouldn't require much parking anyway. What is the lot next door used for? I don't ever really see it full even when there is events going on at the Fox. However, Ilitch wanting to put a lot or garage nearby is justifiable. Heck, I would want my car close by in that neighborhood.

Too bad we won't see anything too soon from the Park Ave and Charlevoix... especially the Charlevoix which is in dire need of repairs. I don't think the guy who owns that place has seen the upper floor in years. Damn, for even the best urban explorers, it's almost impossible since the stairs are gone. If that guy wants insurance, he's going to have to buy himself a couple flights of stairs, lol. Out of all buildings downtown, except the Fine Arts, this would have been the one I would have seen going first to demolition. If Blenheim apartments are to be renovated, I would suggest the Adams Theater behind Fine Arts be demolished. It's essentially, the most worthless building within the CBD and barely has any historical value anymore. If the Ilitches manage to save the Fine Arts, which would be an unimaginable feat with even the best developers, they could use a parking structure too.

I'm really, really, really hoping to see something come from the UA soon. We cannot lose this building or GCP will be a crater in the entire downtown. I can care less about the theater in that building too. It's so far gone, it would be difficult to restore. We have enough theaters downtown for the state of condition the city is in now. I want to see the theater portion demoed for dedicated parking and the tower turned into an office building. Yeah, I know saying office building may not be a good idea, but I feel like there needs to be more office buildings downtown. I'd like to see a westward expansion of office buildings in downtown Detroit with ground floor retail. They are the real generators of tax revenue. Residential is great and all, but it can fill in voids in between.

I'm still somewhat iffy on the idea of a new Hockey Stadium. Although I've never cared that much for the Joe, I'm somewhat worried Detroit will turn into stadiumland. They kind of destroy the city's character and density. Detroit really needs to work on buildings in its "dead forever" areas first like around the Joe. I mean what will we see replace the Joe? A condo tower? Hell no. Maybe an isoloated office tower, but nothing that would contribute necessarily to the density and vibrancy of the downtown. I've always dreamed of those lots behind fox becoming some built up neighborhood. I know this wouldn't happen for decades, so a hockey stadium is probably the only way to force development. Hopefully we don't see any mass demolitions like we saw for Comerica Park and Ford Field. I don't think a lot of people realize just how much was lost to those two stadiums. Not to mention, look at how much parking was needed to be built.

I've always had an interest in devising new strategies of putting parking in buildings. I've been working on a conceptual design for a stadium in 3ds that has underground parking, and quick connected access to a freeway.

Anyway, I think I've rambled long enough. :rolleyes:

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Nothing has to replace the Joe for all I'm concerned, as long as they move it. Turning the land into extended park space following the river would be great and help tie in the west riverfront with downtown as best as it can with Cobo and the Lodge and all of it's services drives in the way. Plus, would the new Red Wings arena have to knock down anything if it were built in Fox Town? I don't see them having to get rid of much of anything.

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The lot next to the Detroit Life Building (if I'm thinking of the one you're talking about) is used for loading and unloading things from the Fox, as well as the storage of semi trailers. Most of the people I know who live in the area use the Fox Theater garage. It's only like $45 to park your car for the month, and it's not even a block from the Detroit Building. If your choosing to live an urban lifestyle by living in the Detroit Life Building, then you should have no problem walking half a block.

The owner of the Park Avenue & Charlevoix is fully aware of what he is dealing with. He knows that the Charlevoix's roof is beyond worn out. I have seen him in the Charlevoix before. I have heard him working in the Park Avenue recently. I guess we won't know what exactly is going on in there until the boards come off the first floor.

I'm sure Ilitches realize at this point that the only thing to save in the Fine Arts Building & Adams Theater is the facade along Adams Street. It is possible to do, and although I don't expect them to, it would be great if they would.

The UA Theater is pretty far gone. Again, I do not expect the Ilitches to restore it, but it would be nice if they would. Some have suggested that the UA could be cleaned up, stabilized, and perform as a "ruins theater" of sorts. It would obviously cost a lot less than a full blown restoration of the theater, but at this point it's so far gone that I don't really see a point in doing that. All I ask is that they salvage the indian maidens from the front lobby. The UA Building...now I see that as a mixed use building. Detroit's got more than enough old office buildings sitting around that are half occupied. Office workers leave after 5:00pm anyway. If you want a more vibrant downtown you need to see people living there. Most businesses that move back to the city are going to want Class A office space, and that is something that is easier to build new. You could turn the UA into a Class A building, but it still lacks the openess that businesses these days look for. However, if you convert part of the UA into offices, it won't put so much of a glut into the old building office market. Then you still have the top levels for lofts. The top few floors have some very good views. They'd be even better if they tore Trolley Plaza down, lol.

As far as the new stadium, it would only take out two small occupied apartment buildings, a cluster of abandoned buildings on the east side of Cass, and Hotel Vermont. The Ilitches do not own all the land in this area, but they own quite a bit. The stadium authority already owns a few parcels as well, from the days when the baseball park was supposed to go west of Woodward. The Ilitches own property all the way to Grand River Avenue. The Joe will likely be demolished for a future Cobo expansion.

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What are they going to do with all the cats in the building? ;)

[edit]

Here are some photos of the UA building today.

The fence is now all around the building - there's a small sliver of sidewalk that you can walk on (parking meters) along Bagley.

ua_fence.jpg

They also blocked off Bagley from car traffic as they're doing some work around the building.

Primarily putting up this big banner.

ua_banner.jpg

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I don't know. Move them over with the cats in the Film Exchange Building, I guess. The old woman who feeds the cats is Judy. Her entire day revolves around feeding the cats!

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