DTE Energy's plan to revive 'west downtown' continues

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — The revival of a small Art Deco building is the latest sign DTE Energy is pouring millions into a neglected pocket of downtown that could be home to a "mini Campus Martius" on Grand River and First Street.

The utility company sees the area as its piece of the central business district it can overhaul at a time when downtown is surging with new residents, new infrastructure and new life for buildings that long sat vacant.

"The origins really start with our corporate aspiration to be a force of growth and prosperity in our neighborhood," said Dave Meador, DTE Energy's vice chairman and chief administrative officer.

For two years, DTE Energy has been cleaning, beefing up security and buying empty properties around its 11/2-acre headquarters on Plaza Drive, which is surrounded by a bland stretch of Bagley Avenue, First Street and Grand River.

In 2012, DTE began to install more streetlights, clean up trash and work with Detroit police to beef up security. Those efforts stretched to an area of more than 30 blocks, officials said.

"We were getting 100 hits a week" in potential incidents, Meador said, mainly involving vandalism of empty properties.

Two years later, overall crime has been reduced by 20 percent. Burglaries and property crimes are down 65 percent, DTE officials said. Specific numbers were not provided.

Two years ago DTE purchased a former Salvation Army building adjacent to its headquarters off Bagley and a triangular lot with a pair of empty buildings along Grand River and First, across the street from the Grand Army of the Republic Building.

The three-story Bagley building was bought for $600,000, public records show. It was last used in 2004 by the Salvation Army, DTE Energy said.

It reopened last week as the Navitas — a Latin word for energy — House. About 140 DTE employees now work in the building. DTE preserved its Art Deco interior elements while making it energy efficient. A rain garden to filter water runoff and provide a habitat for birds and butterflies has been added.

The long-term plan for the building, which has 150 parking spaces, is still "pretty open," Meador said.

This spring work will begin on turning the triangular lot into a green space and possible "mini Campus Martius," Meador said.

Renderings show that it will become a park with possible areas for food trucks and a stage.

"We are in the design phase right now. We want to design it in a flexible way... it may be possible a restaurant and bar could be there," Meador said.

DTE is not the only business investing in "western downtown" as DTE officials sometimes call the area. Next month is the reopening of Grand Army of the Republic Building, at Grand River and Cass, which has undergone a $4 million renovation spearheaded by downtown media firm Mindfield. That 115-year-old building will have two restaurants and offices. It had been empty for years.

Overall, the area of investment is on the edge of the planned $650 million overhaul of 45 blocks led by the Ilitch organization. And Quicken Loans Inc.'s founder Dan Gilbert is continuing to buy downtown buildings and other properties.


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