Bedrock touts two ‘transformational’ towers downtown

Ian Thibodeau, and Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Detroit will overhaul a mostly vacant two-square-block area in the heart of downtown Detroit by building two modern towers for office and residential use, and space for stores and restaurants.

Preliminary plans for the site known as the Monroe Block call for a 20-story office tower fronting Campus Martius at one end of Monroe, and a 16-story residential tower facing Greektown at the other end. Between the towers would be mixed-use mid-rise buildings with at least 60,000 square feet of ground floor retail space. Construction would start by spring 2018.

A price wasn’t put on the potential development, but it did come with a cautionary warning by officials of the Bedrock development company that the plan could be downsized if state legislators and Gov. Rick Snyder don’t approve tax breaks for “transformational” projects like the Monroe Block.

The Detroit Downtown Development Authority on Wednesday unanimously approved a land sale that allows the Bedrock development company to move forward with plans for the Monroe Block, a large stretch of mostly unused of land bounded by Monroe, Bates, Cadillac Square and Randolph. Two board members recused themselves from voting.

Bedrock officials: Monroe Block plan needs tax breaks

The two-phase project will take two more years to complete.

Proposed plans say the office tower built in the first phase would have at least 600,000 square feet of floor space. It would include at least 35,000 square feet of ground-floor retail.

The 225,000-square-foot residential tower would be erected in a second phase on vacant land at the corner of Monroe and Randolph, across from the entrance to Greektown. That building would include at least 25,000 square feet of retail space.

In conceptual renderings shown Wednesday, the office tower has a sleek glass facade. The modern mid-rise buildings have floor-to-ceiling windows and a brick facade. The residential tower is triangular to fit the corner.

Famed architect Albert Kahn’s lone surviving theater, the National Theatre, will be partially torn down and have its facade preserved, according to plans outlined Wednesday.

The 105-year-old National Theatre’s white-glazed terra-cotta facade was used in a conceptual rendering as an archway over Farmer, which bisects the Monroe Block. Bedrock officials said the renderings are not finalized. The derelict structure has been unused for 40 years, and last saw light as an adult film theater.

Steve Rosenthal, principal of Bedrock, said Bedrock made saving the facade a priority. “We think it’s a jewel,” he said.

Plans submitted to the DDA Wednesday were preliminary outlines for the site, Bedrock officials said.

The provisional agreement approved by the DDA sells Bedrock the vacant land on the square block adjoining Campus Martius for $1, and vacant land in the square block adjoining Greektown for $1.5 million. Bedrock will purchase the National Theatre from the city for its appraised value of $1.2 million, though Bedrock will get a $900,000 credit to pay for preserving the facade.

The land and property sale need to be approved by Detroit City Council. If approved, Bedrock will need city approval for specific construction plans in 2017. According to the purchase agreement approved Wednesday, Bedrock will break ground on the project in the first half of 2018 and take an estimated 30 months to complete.

Only two buildings are on the Monroe Block besides the theater: Cadillac Tower stands alone on the first block. In addition, there’s three-story building at the corner of Farmer and Bates; Jim Ketai, managing partner of Gilbert’s Bedrock Detroit, is the registered agent for the limited-liability company that owns that building.

Gilbert’s attempt to restore the block will be the most recent in a series of failed attempts to restore the Monroe Block.

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