Tallest building in Detroit planned for Hudson site

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

In an era of a downtown Detroit renaissance, plans for the tallest building in the city were unveiled Wednesday.

Bedrock presented preliminary design and plans for the site of the former J.L. Hudson’s Department Store Wednesday, February 22, 2017, at a meeting of the DDA

The building is part of an estimated $775 million development proposed by an entity linked to billionaire Dan Gilbert. The project for the empty Woodward Avenue block where the J.L. Hudson department store once stood is one of the most expensive and ambitious plans introduced in a decade that has seen many blockbuster deals.

The shimmering, futuristic 734-foot tower aims to be a centerpiece for the city and state, officials for Gilbert’s Bedrock Detroit said as they rolled out the proposed project to the board of the Downtown Development Authority. That’s one of the city agencies that would need to approve the deal.

The tower would have 250 residential units and 700-plus underground parking spaces. A connected nine-story base structure would house retail, office, technology and arts and culture space. The development looks like nothing in Detroit now, with a glass and steel exterior that sweeps upward.

Bedrock officials showed images of Smithsonian exhibits and TED Talks as examples of the kind of events that could be held in conference and exhibit space. There were images of a market and hip retailers in the floor beneath street level. The mixed-use development would have 1.2 million square feet of space.

“We believe this project is so unique that it can help put Detroit back on the national, and even global, map for world-class architecture, talent attraction, technology innovation and job creation,” Gilbert said in a written statement Wednesday.

The DDA board quickly approved a new time frame for the yet-unnamed development. An entity linked to Gilbert has had development rights for the former Hudson’s site since 2010; the DDA has granted extensions for the project several times. Early designs released in 2015 showed a swooping glass-and-metal structure.

If things go as intended — and it’s too soon to tell — the new schedule would see construction start in December of this year and be finished by the end of 2020.

A spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan did not respond to an email asking for comment on Wednesday’s announcement.

Plans for the project could change because Gilbert is counting on tax breaks that don’t yet exist to make the financing work on the project. Those potential tax incentives are currently in the state Legislature. On Wednesday, the package of bills was approved by the state Senate and the bills now go to the state House of Representatives. Last year, similar legislation died in the House.

If the tax incentives are not passed, “It certainly will impact what happens,”said Joe Guziewicz, vice president of construction for Bedrock Detroit. “We would end up coming back to the DDA with revised renderings and a revised timeline,” for the project, he said.

Beyond the tax incentives, it’s unknown whether other tax breaks may be sought for the development.

Entities linked to Gilbert and Bedrock Detroit are major forces downtown, controlling more than 90 properties, which amounts to a $2 billion-plus investment.

The proposed tower would make the structure Detroit’s tallest — by 7 feet. The 70-story center tower of the General Motors Renaissance Center stands 727 feet tall. The development plans were designed by SHoP Architects of New York in conjunction with Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson Associates.

For decades, the Hudson’s store was the jewel of a bustling downtown filled with stores, offices and people. The store was demolished in 1998 and the site has been empty ever since, serving as a reminder of Detroit’s decades-long decline.

The scope of the Hudson’s development was praised by John Mogk, a Wayne State University law professor who follows downtown development. “Hudson’s was a magical place that was really the catalyst for the downtown. This could be that, too. The Renaissance Center failed to do that.”

The estimated $775 million price tag rivals the cost of Little Caesars Arena, the still-under-construction venue that will be the home ice to the Detroit Red Wings. The current estimate for the arena is $732.6 million, but that will increase if the arena also becomes home to the Detroit Pistons, which would result in millions of dollars in modifications to the venue.

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN

Higher ground

These are the tallest buildings in Detroit. The planned building on the Hudson’s site — at 734 feet and 52 floors— would eclipse them all.

1. The Detroit Marriot at the Renaissance Center: 727 feet tall, 70 floors

2. One Detroit Center: 619 feet tall, 43 floors

3. Penobscot Building: 565 feet tall, 47 floors

4. Renaissance Center Towers 100, 200, 300, 400 (Satellite Towers): 522 feet tall, 39 floors

5. The Guardian Building: 496 feet tall, 40 floors

Sources: Emporis,