National Theatre — said to be the last surviving theater designed by renowned architect Albert Kahn. (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Detroit —Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures, which controls almost 8 million square feet of space downtown, is in talks with the city to buy another half a block, including a long-empty historic theater that would be at least partially demolished, according to court documents.
The historic building is the National Theatre — said to be the last surviving theater designed by renowned architect Albert Kahn. Talks are ongoing and no deal has been sealed.
Eric Larson, managing partner of Bedrock Real Estate Services, said Monday in an email: “We have had conversations with the city about the National Theatre and are exploring options to preserve the architectural history and legacy it represents.” Bedrock manages the real estate holdings for Rock Ventures.
The properties are on a dilapidated block of Monroe Street between Compuware Corp. headquarters and the Greektown district, where an entity led by Gilbert recently bought 97.2 percent ownership of the Greektown Casino-Hotel.
The deals were discussed in email exchanges that took place between a Rock Ventures vice-president, Deb Dansby, and the city’s director of planning and development, Rob Anderson.
One proposal is the sale of a huge former parking garage known as the Bates garage. It wraps around Monroe and Randolph. The shuttered garage is owned by the city's Downtown Development Authority, and is in the process of being razed.
Rock Ventures also wants to buy the National Theatre at 100 Monroe. The building is the last survivor of Detroit’s first theater district, and the last theater known still standing to have been designed by Kahn, according to the website HistoricDetroit.org.
Part of the email exchange written by the Rock Ventures official said that, “The negotiated price was $1.5 M for both” properties, but people familiar with the deal who weren’t authorized to speak to The News now say the price is being renegotiated.
The exchanges also seem to indicate the city is hoping Rock Ventures would keep at least the facade of the National. The city official wrote this: “Facade retained in place with reasonable effort not classic standards. Plastic replacement pieces, OK, just retain character in place.”
The emails are part of an ongoing city attempt to take control of the National Theatre, which had been owned by Phoenix Development Group. The city took control earlier this year and is now trying resolve title issues with property.
Last October, a Rock Ventures official bought a three-story Sachs building that’s next to part of the former Bates Garage. City officials could not be reached for comment.
Rock Ventures owns or controls more than 40 buildings covering almost 8 million square feet of space in downtown Detroit, according to figures the company released this month.