Building with glass mural facade to rise in Eastern Market

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

A building with colorful glass murals as a facade is coming to Eastern Market in a project developers say will celebrate existing murals and bring additional retail and office space to the district.

Called Glass Mural, the 40,000-square-foot, four-story structure will replace 2701 Russell, a brick building owner FIRM Real Estate has said isn’t structurally sound. It's next door to Bert's Marketplace.

A rendering of Glass Mural, a glass facade four-story mixed-use building coming to Detroit’s Eastern Market, next door to Bert's Marketplace.

Demolition will begin soon, but a date has not been set, according to FIRM. Site preparation begins this week with construction expected to begin in 2021 and last 14 months. The total cost is not yet known, according to the developer.

The lower portion of Glass Mural will replicate the colorful mural on the existing building by Canadian pop/mural artist Daniel Joseph Bombardier, who is known as "Denial." The upper part of the building will feature a new mural by Detroit-based artist Tashif "Sheefy McFly" Turner.

“This project is unlike anything Detroit has ever seen,” said Marvin Beatty, partner with FIRM Real Estate.

Beatty said the development will bring additional jobs to the city. The first floor is expected to house four retail spaces for local and Michigan- based businesses. The upper three floors will be for office or other commercial uses. A rooftop space will be an amenity for tenants.

Netherlands-based architecture firm MVRDV will print colorful murals within a transparent facade. L.S. Brinker Company, a Detroit-based, minority-owned construction management business will serve as the contractor. 

Winy Maas, co-founding partner of MVRDV, said the use of glass is playful, unexpected and practical. This is the firm's first mixed-use project in the Midwest and third in the country.

"It allows us to incorporate windows to become a part of the artwork, not an obstacle for artists to work around," he said. 

Bombardier said incorporating the artwork and history of the building into the project pays homage to the changes taking place in Eastern Market district and the city. 

“I really think it will serve as an inspiration to people and it really mirrors the unique characteristics of the market which is exactly why I fell in love with that area of Detroit,” he said. “I am extremely fortunate to have champions behind me who believe in the ideas my work speaks to.”

A rendering showing a bird's-eye view of the Glass Mural building planned for Eastern Market.

FIRM, a residential and commercial development company, owns about 20 buildings in the Eastern Market area. President Sanford Nelson came under fire last spring when the Russell Street Deli announced it was closing after the company had acquired its building.

The portion of the current building on the site to be occupied by the Glass Mural structure previously housed the now closed Mike Coney Island. Word of an impending demolition last year prompted some citizen concern that lead to the city embarking on a study for a local historic district, which would come with restrictions.

The Historic District Advisory Board is expected to recommend before Detroit City Council this fall a historic district for only the buildings associated with the public market itself, said Dan Carmody, president of the Eastern Market Partnership. For example, the market sheds.

Carmody said the structure at 2701 Russell has had some serious structural issues.

As for the new project, Carmody said that while he likes how the building steps back on the higher levels, he would like to see more traditional masonry imagery incorporated in the glass design.

"Building on the traditions of the murals in Eastern Market, it's a rich tradition and this is an interesting way to kind of take that in a different direction," he said. "It's just a question considering the length of the time and intensity of how many different murals you want integrated into any one particular building."

Bert Dearing, owner of Bert’s Marketplace, said he met with architects and was a part of multiple design conversations.

“When I saw the final design, I was speechless,” he said. “This is the future. It’s inventive, innovative and exciting.”

FIRM is also doing a $3 million renovation of 2000 Division, a vacant food-processing facility, for its own offices and for up to three large tenants. The existing murals on that building will remain.

The company announced nearly two weeks ago it was also underway on a $7 million conversion of 1440 Gratiot into a residential development named The Atlas Lofts.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN