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Merchants Row Lines up its first tenant

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MERCHANTS ROW IN DOWNTOWN DETROIT: A taste of progress

Retail-loft development lines up its first tenant, an eatery

March 13, 2004

BY GRETA GUEST

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

The developer of Merchants Row, a $30-million loft and retail project under construction on Woodward Avenue, says it has the first retail tenant lined up and hopes to create a bit of Soho in Detroit with unique local shops.

Schostak Brothers & Co. of Southfield said that the Breakfast Club, an upscale breakfast and lunch concept from a partner in Sweet Georgia Brown, will take 3,720 square feet of space at 1241 Woodward.

Frank Taylor, president and managing partner of Sweet Georgia Brown, plans to open later this year and cater to the 4,100 Compuware employees across the street. Taylor and his unnamed partners are excited about breathing life into the windowless building, vacant for decades.

"Detroit has just so much to offer. It will be a main attraction for people all over," Taylor said. "Over the next few years we are just going to see Detroit blossom in a way that most people can't envision right now."

Construction on Merchants Row began last March. The project, which spans five circa-1900 buildings in the 1200 and 1400 blocks of Woodward, includes 157 loft units and a total of 40,000 square feet of retail space. It also includes a new 264-space semi-automated garage.

"We need entrepreneurs," said Cindy Ciura, vice president of corporate marketing for Schostak. "It's an opportunity for a real cool Detroit urban retailer."

Ciura said developers are looking for retailers who complement loft residents whether they are restaurants, fashion, food markets or home decor.

"We look at it like a Soho . . . Something you don't see everywhere. Detroit is going to be appealing to people outside of Detroit and in the suburbs because it offers something different," she said. "If we put the same thing you can find at the regional mall or strip center, it doesn't appeal to people to make a special trip."

Downtown retail development got a boost when Borders and Hard Rock Cafe moved into the Compuware Corp. headquarters building last November. While the two national retailers cannot revive the Woodward area alone, they have generated buzz necessary to attract other retailers.

"Since Borders, Hard Rock Cafe and Compuware opened, there's a whole different feeling from retailers," Ciura said. "Before, you didn't have the traffic down here."

Fred Marx, a former Hudson's executive and partner in Marx Layne & Co., a public relations and marketing firm in Farmington Hills, said Schostak has the right idea in trying to build the area, which has had fewer retailers in the past 20 years.

"We've seen this in other downtowns going through the same evolution of restoration," Marx said. "This is the way to go. There are always entrepreneurs out there that will find their way. It's atmosphere, the whole character that makes it work."

Leasing for the lofts will begin in April. The residential and retail space is expected to be completed this fall.

The retail space ranges from 1,820 square feet to 11,485 square feet in the basement of what was the F.W. Woolworth building, which was shuttered in 1984. The main floor of the Woolworth building is 10,816 square feet and has retained some historic flavor including 22-foot ceilings, marble pillars and terrazzo floors.

Ciura said the retail spaces in the 1400 block could be divided to accommodate smaller retailers.

Schostak along with Sterling Group has formed Kern Woodward Associates, developers of Merchants Row and nearby Campus Martius, which includes the Compuware building. Schostak is the leasing agent for Merchants Row and the 60,000 square feet of retail space in Compuware's headquarters, which houses 4,100 workers.

Campus Martius is a 9-acre office and retail area located near the site of the demolished J.L. Hudson's store on Woodward. It includes Compuware and Campus Martius park, under construction in front of the building at Woodward and Monroe. The park is to be a year-round entertainment venue.

Contact GRETA GUEST at 313-223-4192 or [email protected]

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