Bedrock Detroit, the entity that owns more than 90 downtown properties, confirmed Monday it has bought the former Detroit Free Press building, an historic structure that’s been empty for nearly two decades.
The downtown building at 321 W. Lafayette was bought for an undisclosed price late last year and will become a mixed-use space with retail, residences and offices. The renovations will highlight the architectural detail of the Albert Kahn-designed gem.
“It’s not in very good condition. It’s been ignored for a long time,” Jim Ketai, CEO and co-founder of Bedrock Detroit, said in an Monday interview.
He said that with the planned renovations, “We will really respect the architecture.”
Work has begun on the building; the power will be restored as soon as next week. But it will take around two years, until 2019, before the overhaul of the building will be complete.
The massive building — six stories with a 14-story tower in the middle — was the newspaper’s headquarters from 1925 to 1998, according to the website HistoricDetroit.org.
Ketai said it was too soon to determine what retailers or offices may be targeted for the building, but it is standard practice for Bedrock to have ground-floor retail in many of its developments. The floors above the first floor “set up super nice for office space,” Ketai said. And above the office space, the upper floors will become residential.
The building has been empty since the newspaper moved out. The previous owner of the building, Shanghai-based DDI, put the building up for sale last year for $16 million. DDI was the property’s third owner since it became vacant.
Like the the previous owners, DDI failed to find a new use for the building that made financial sense. It bought the 302,000-square-foot structure in 2013 for $4.2 million during an online auction. It was part of a deal in which DDI bought three downtown buildings.
Bedrock has converted multiple downtown properties that were under-utilized or vacant into mixed-use spaces with plenty of occupants. Bedrock was co-founded by Dan Gilbert, the founder and chairman of Quicken Loans Inc.
There are far fewer empty downtown buildings than in previous years, but Ketai said there is “a lot of interest from out-of-state” developers and investors who want to buy property in the central business district.
And Bedrock could continue to buy more downtown property, Ketai said.
“We are not stopping,” he said.