Bedrock breaks ground on massive Monroe Blocks project in Detroit

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
Plans for the Monroe Blocks project include the first high-rise office tower to be built downtown in a generation, as well as more than an acre of open space.

Detroit — Bedrock broke ground Thursday on its $830 million Monroe Blocks development that will reshape the city's downtown core with a mix of office, retail and residential space.

Bedrock chairman and billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert said there is already "large interest" for space in the 1.4-million-square-foot future development, and he expects to see some lease signings in the next 18 months.

Monroe Blocks (courtyard view)

"The retail will fill in. Residential, we all know there's huge demand," Gilbert said. "It's really all about the office tenants, and we have a lot of demand for that."

The Monroe Blocks site is a mostly vacant two-square-block area bounded by Monroe, Bates, Cadillac Square and Randolph. Plans calls for 847,000-square-feet of office space, 170,000-square-feet of retail space and 482 residential units. The plans include a 35-story office tower and more than an acre of open space.

Dignitaries including Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, from left, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Gov. Rick Snyder and Bedrock chairman Dan Gilbert listen to speakers during the groundbreaking ceremony for Bedrock's 1.4 million square-foot Monroe Blocks project.

Bedrock's Monroe Blocks project, slated for completion in 2022, is one of several developments underway as part of a $2.1 billion investment announced in 2017.

The project will include a 35-story office tower fronting Campus Martius, with a series of residential buildings containing retail space. 


This is not just a bunch of buildings," Gov. Rick Snyder said. "It's an ecosystem being built."

Gilbert said the Monroe Blocks site is the next step in Detroit's growth story, as most of the existing buildings he owns have filled up with residents and tenants.

"People and companies are like trees, you're either growing or dying," Gilbert told the press after the groundbreaking event Thursday.

Mayor Mike Duggan noted Thursday's Monroe Blocks announcement caps off an "amazing week in Detroit," which kicked off with Monday with a $35 million investment from seven companies to kickstart redevelopment in some of the city's neglected areas.

Bedrock tapped Danish architecture firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen to design the project alongside Detroit-based firm Neumann/Smith Architecture.

Monroe Blocks (Campus Martius view)

According to Bedrock, the design team is focused on connecting the surrounding downtown areas through "intelligent urban and landscape design strategies." It also wants to create open spaces that are mixed with retail, food and entertainment.

“Monroe Blocks is a project with a striking sense of place that connects people and spaces on a physical, social and cultural level,” said Kristian Ahlmark, a partner and design director at Schmidt Hammer Lassen. “New pedestrian thoroughfares reintroduce openness and urban porosity that this area of downtown Detroit has been missing for decades.”

The former National Theatre, famed architect Albert Khan's lone surviving theater, will be partially demolished as part of the project. The theater's facade will be preserved and moved to Farmer and incorporated as a pedestrian archway.

Bedrock shared new renderings of the project as part of the ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday.

The groundbreaking on the Monroe Blocks comes a year after Bedrock celebrated the nearby groundbreaking of its $1 billion redevelopment of the former Hudson's site.

Twitter: @NoraNaughton