July 10, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Commissioners take step to clear way for sale of old Wayne Co. building

$13.4M deal for Wayne Co. site, parking lot awaits final OK

Detroit— The historic Old Wayne County Building is a step closer to being sold following an agreement between county officials, a New York family involved in real estate and a group of private investors.

County commissioners approved Thursday the sale of a county-owned parking lot in a move that paves the way for the sale of the building.

Under the agreement, which still needs approval from the full commission next week, the $13.4 million purchase price is for the building and the 23-acre parking lot adjacent to the building on Randolph. The county, which owns the parking lot and the land underneath the building, would net $2.5 million from the sale.

A consortium called The Old Wayne County Limited Partnership owns the building.

“Our hope and desire is to start the beautification process and bring it back to life as soon as possible,” said Moshe Oppenheim, a New York attorney representing the buyers.

Commissioners worried the potential buyer, 600 Randolph SN LLC, would alter or even raze the historic structure. The building housed Wayne County government until December 2009, when the county moved to the nearby Guardian Building. The building has since been vacant.

Still, commissioners called it a “jewel.” The building was finished in 1902 and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975.

Oppenheim said the limited liability corporation — a type of firm that is usually formed to buy and develop a property — would spend $4 million to $5 million just to fix leaks, damage and the facade before it begins to market the building. Oppenheim said his client envisions a high-end bank or a technology firm as a tenant.

The former county building is about three blocks from the Woodward Avenue corridor where Quicken Loans Inc. Chairman Dan Gilbert has been buying buildings and aiming to turn the area into a technology hub that he calls “Webward.”

James Bieri of Detroit-based Stokas Bieri Real Estate drives or walks by the closed building several times a day. He welcomes a historic rebirth of one of the most iconic buildings in the state, saying more strong, solid investors are now looking at Detroit buildings.

“It’s going to take a real creative use of space to be able to figure out how to adapt and reuse it,” Bieri said. “It’s really encouraging that someone would pay anything for a building like that. It’s not what you pay for it; it’s what you have to put into it.”

To make the old county building space usable to a viable company will cost another $5 million to $10 million, Oppenheim said.

“We’re buying this because we consider it to be irreplaceable,” he told commissioners at the Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday morning. “We’re committed to it. We are in this for the long haul. We’re not in this to make a quick dollar or to change its historical nature.”

The county and the partnership had been in a legal fight over costs and expenses the county incurred while it was in the building. In March 2013, the sides agreed to allow the partnership to market the building along with the county’s parking lot. Parking is at a premium in that area of the city, and the inclusion of the parking lot made the site more appealing to potential buyers, both sides agreed.

The sale would erase all litigation between the sides.

“Thirty years ago, The Old Wayne County Limited Partnership bought The Old Wayne County Building with the intention of bringing this architecturally significant building back to its original grandeur and saving it from the fate of so many historic properties in downtown Detroit,” said partnership spokesman Michael Layne in a statement.

“The partnership is pleased to announce the sale to 600 Randolph SN LLC, and looks forward to The Old Wayne County Building gracing downtown’s skyline for generations to come.”

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A New York family and a group of investors are seeking to buy the former Wayne County Building at 600 Randolph, which opened in 1902. / Photos by Max Ortiz / The Detroit News