Fundraiser to help put grand back in Grand Circus Park

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — A big tent soiree is set for Grand Circus Park on Thursday with cocktails and even a aria or two performed by artists from the Michigan Opera Theatre.

It’s a fundraising event by a group working to restore the grand in Grand Circus Park, the circular public space increasingly surrounded by upscale housing, offices and retail.

The $150-a-ticket Grand Circus Gala, 6-9 p.m., reflects the growing influence of money downtown. It wasn’t so long ago the park, divided by Woodward Avenue, was the kind of place where the down-and-out drank booze out of brown paper bags.

The gala features live music, cocktails and appetizers from nearby restaurants. For $150 a ticket, the drinks are free. There is a $75 ticket option, which gets patrons three drinks. The $150 price also includes a six-month membership to the Detroit Historical Society. All ticket holders get a day pass to the nearby Boll Family YMCA.

The origins of the 165-year-park are tied to money and style. The buildings surrounding the park are affluent examples of late 19th and early 20th century architecture, including designs by the likes of Albert Kahn, Howard Crane and Gordon W. Lloyd, according to the Detroit Historical Society.

The lumber baron David Whitney Jr. was the force behind one of those buildings, which has a sumptuous four-story atrium. The David Whitney building is now upscale rental apartments and an Aloft hotel.

Another example of old school ambition is the Broderick Tower, a 34-story skyscraper that was second-tallest building in the state when it opened in 1928. The building is now high-end rental housing and office space.

Both buildings had been vacant for years before being renovated in the past few years. Next year, a 200-plus unit apartment complex called Statler City Apartments is expected to be built at Washington and Park avenues.

In the past three years, foundations, nearby businesses and downtown consortiums like the Downtown Detroit Partnership have helped pour more than $100,000 a year into the park to repair the two fountains, install new sidewalks and umbrella benches. It also sponsors summer concerts and other events. It’s been part of a broader effort that maintains the upkeep and creates programming for downtown public spaces such as Campus Martius and Capitol Park.

Tonight’s gala signals the efforts of a group of downtown businesses and others who will focus solely on Grand Circus Park, said David Di Rita, a co principal of the Roxbury Development Group. Di Rita is also a member of the Downtown Entertainment District, which will help lead the Grand Circus efforts.

For more information about tonight’s event, call the offices of Berg Muirhead and Associates at (313) 872-2202.

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