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A generation later, The Press on Lafayette is ready to roll again

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

After sitting vacant for more than 20 years, the former Detroit Free Press building on Lafayette is redeveloped and ready for tenants.

Bedrock’s $75 million project, known as The Press/321, features 105 residential units as well as office, restaurant and retail space. Leasing for the residential units starting at $995 a month for a studio begins Wednesday, and the public can take a virtual tour of the building Tuesday as part of Detroit Month of Design.

(Rendering) Bedrock's $75 million project, known as The Press/321, features 105 residential units as well as office, restaurant and retail space. The building also has a rooftop pool, sundeck and will have a previously announced fully automated parking system in the basement expected to be complete in 2021. Dan Gilbert's Bedrock purchased the historic Albert Kahn-designed building at 321 Lafayette in 2016.

“It’s certainly a big undertaking to update a building like this, but the amazing thing is ... 22 years later this fall we’re going to have people living there,” said Jonathan Mueller, Bedrock’s director of residential development.

Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock purchased the historic Albert Kahn-designed building at 321 Lafayette in 2016. The building housed the Detroit Free Press from 1925-98. The 276,183-square-foot building has been empty since the newspaper moved out, resulting in such deterioration that it was rendered “functionally obsolete.”

“Any time you have the opportunity to work on an Albert Kahn building you’re going to try your best to do that,” Mueller said. “A really great piece of architecture, great location, proximity, not only to the central business district, but access to highway and Corktown and different parts of the city are all pretty easy from there.

"It’s a unique building that has sort of the tiered, almost wedding cake design. You have the two six-story pieces and then the 14-story in the middle. It’s a little bit different than a lot of the other structures you see downtown as far as the massing of the building.”

The first step to restoring the building was exterior work which started about three years ago. It took about two years to complete the interior. The project was designed by Bedrock’s in-house architecture team and Detroit-based Kraemer Design Group.

Numerous details of the art deco design building were either restored or replicated. Among them were the marble and terrazzo floors, the plaster ceiling and the original cast iron framing hiding behind stainless steel surrounding the elevators and storefronts in the lobby, said Laura Mitchell, project architect and team lead for Kraemer Design Group.

“That was really, really exciting, and we were able to clean those up and keep them,” she said of the cast iron framing.

On the exterior, a light that hung over the main entry doors was replicated, and the decorative mini-canopies above the storefront windows, called "eyebrows," were restored.

"It's such an iconic building downtown and the historic features, the lobby, the corridors are so beautiful and so much that was still intact," Mitchell said. "It was wonderful to get to work with so much material instead of having to guess what used to be there."

Mueller said the design of the building lends itself to bringing lots of natural light into the residential units, which will be on the upper floors. The building also has a rooftop pool, sundeck and will have a previously announced fully automated parking system in the basement expected to be complete in 2021.

Mueller said that Bedrock is actively working on tenants for the commercial spaces of the building. 

The main floor lobby will serve both residents and office users. Adjacent to the lobby is ground floor commercial space for both retail and restaurants. The second and third floors will house office users. Levels four through 14 are residential. Units range from studios to three-bedrooms with stainless steel appliances. Move-ins will begin in mid-October.

Mueller said that despite the COVID-19 pandemic real estate is a long-term investment for Bedrock: “We’re still very ambitious about the market. We think that it’s a great building. If this was a 500-unit building, I might be a little bit more nervous, but with 105 units in what I think is a good location and good design, I think it will be a successful project.

"Certainly, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect the same pace of lease up or absorption that we would have thought pre-COVID was going to still happen now. Hopefully it’s just a small bump in the road, and a year or two years we look back and say, 'yeah it took a little bit of extra time.' But I think the project and units will be absorbed into the market relatively quickly.”

Those interested in a virtual tour can sign up here.

For information about leasing visit here.

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN