New revival plans OK’d for long-empty downtown building

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — A downtown building that’s been empty for nearly 40 years is expected to get a $32 million makeover and reopen as an extended-stay hotel with ground-floor retail.

The Metropolitan, a tall, narrow Gothic-like structure at 33 John R, has been graffiti-riddled and thoroughly vandalized for decades. The city has spent tens of thousands to board up its broken windows as well as set up scaffolding and netting to prevent pieces of the exterior from falling onto passersby. The historic building was at risk of being demolished two years ago.

Last year, a developer declared the 15-story structure could be revived as high-end rental apartments, joining the trend of transforming historic office buildings into residential. On Wednesday, that developer, Metropolitan Development Group, changed its plans, saying a better idea is to transform the Metropolitan into an extended-stay hotel with lower-level retail, such as a restaurant.

“Overall, it’s a better fit for the great details of the building, and plus a hotel and retail, like a restaurant, means we create jobs,” said Eric Means, managing partner in the Metropolitan Development Group.

Downtown’s hotel scene is experiencing a boom, with historic structures being converted into upscale boutique hotels. The trend is sparked by the rebounding auto industry, a steadily improving downtown and an expanded Cobo convention center.

Downtown hotels saw their best performance in years in 2014, hitting an average occupancy rate of about 66 percent, according to local hospitality officials. The average nightly rate was $115 to $120.

On Wednesday afternoon, the board of the Downtown Development Authority approved the change of plans for the Metropolitan. The board also wants the developer to provide a timeline that will give target dates for securing the building’s crumbling facade along with other construction and financing benchmarks.

The DDA is a unit of the quasi-public agency, the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. The DDA has say in the plans because the Metropolitan remains city-owned until the development plan is carried out.

The name of the national hotel chain wasn’t released Wednesday because the deal couldn’t be finalized until the DDA signed off on the new plan, Means said. About 100-130 hotel rooms are being considered for the building, and developers hope to find a restaurant for a space that was home to an eatery decades ago.

Means said there may still be room in the upper floors for high-end rental apartments but that won’t be known until the hotel deal is sealed.

The Metropolitan Building was built in 1925 and for many years was home to jewelry businesses, a dress shop and other retailers.

Its highly decorative facade is composed of terra cotta, granite and brick. The building lost its last tenant and became empty around 1977 or 1978. The city foreclosed on the structure shortly afterward, shutting it down, according to the website

The development group has been cleaning out the building and securing its facade for about a year. The Metropolitan Building is about a half block east of Woodward and John R, the intersection where the John Varvatos store is located. The Metropolitan is less than a block away from the Detroit Opera House, the Boll YMCA and the People Mover stop on Broadway.

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