Stone Soap building to be remade on Detroit riverfront

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

A long-vacant industrial complex along Detroit’s east riverfront will undergo a $27 million renovation that will bring additional housing and retail to the area, city officials announced Wednesday.

“This is another significant step forward,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said during a press conference on a lot next to the Stone Soap building.

Redevelopment of the Stone Soap building at Franklin and Riopelle is part of a larger plan to redevelop the East Riverfront district.

The development will include 33 rental apartments in the original structures; 30 condominiums will be newly built. There will be one-, two- and three-bedroom units. The building will also provide free performance space for the Shakespeare in Detroit theater company.

“This is another significant step forward,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said during a press conference on a lot next to the Stone Soap building. “You’ve got a blighted abandoned industrial building that’s been vacant for 20 years and people thought there would be nothing going on here. And now we’re seeing the development spread to more and more of this city.”

Duggan was joined by officials from the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and the city’s planning department.

The Stone Soap building, built in 1907, housed numerous industrial companies before it was purchased by the Stone Soap Co. in the late 1970s. The company manufactured commercial detergents in the building until the late 1990s. The building has been vacant for at least 20 years.

The Stone Soap building, as seen in this artist's rendering, will be turned into condos and apartments.

The city issued a request for proposals in the spring. Detroit-based developer Banyan Investments was selected from numerous candidates. The company has several projects underway in Detroit, including the restoration of the historic St. Charles School in the city’s West Village neighborhood.

Aamir Farooqi, chairman and CEO of Banyan Investments, said the company is committed to its work in the city.

“We’re history buffs,” he said. “What attracted us to Detroit is that it has this amazing history – and the people. We like the resilience of the people and the resilience of the old buildings. Let’s not tear things down. Let’s see if we can preserve and protect, rebuild and repurpose.”

The development will have more than 13,000 square feet retail space for residents and visitors to the riverfront, officials said. Banyan Investments will also build the city’s first parking carousel within an enclosed space, a space-saving technology seen in New York.

Twenty percent of the units in the development – 13 apartments – will be affordable housing for individuals earning 80 percent of the area median income, or about $38,000 a year.

The complex will feature a gym, pool, storage, rooftop gardens and bike stations for residents, officials said.

The public performing arts space will be the new home of Shakespeare in Detroit, a nonprofit troupe that performs live productions of Shakespeare’s works throughout the city.

Sam White, founding artistic and executive director of Shakespeare in Detroit, said the development will allow them to sustain their work for years.

“We’ll have a home to do our administrative work required to produce the beautiful shows that we produce on stage,” she said. “To launch an educational program that supplements and complements middle and high school curriculums and serves as inspiration for tourists from all around the world to come and experience Shakespeare theater at its finest.”

The project is expected to break ground in the spring following City Council approval, Farooqi said. Work is expected to be complete by fall 2020.

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