WSU building could showcase legendary Cass Corridor art

Louis Aguilar and Kim Kozlowski, The Detroit News

Detroit — An empty Wayne State University building slated for demolition could join the area’s booming development scene. A plan was unveiled Friday to restore the Cass Avenue structure, and develop an adjacent lot, to create 181 residences and a gallery dedicated to WSU’s permanent art collection, which includes extensive work from the Cass Corridor art movement. 

The WSU Board of Governors approved Friday a $2 million sale of the historic building at 6001 Cass on the north end of campus near TechTown. It is being sold to The Platform LLC, a development group founded by Peter Cummings, Mike Hammond and Dietrich Knoer. The six-story building, which once housed WSU’s Criminal Justice department, was designed by famed architect Albert Kahn.

The deal includes a long-term ground lease of an adjacent parking lot at 445 York St. that will allow for the construction of a parking structure to include 543 spaces, 220 of which will be retained by Wayne State. A total of 181 residential units are planned. That includes 69 residential units in the former Criminal Justice building and approximately 64 apartment units and 48 condo units on the York Street site, which borders Antoinette Street and Cass Avenue.

The Platform development group is a major player in New Center and Midtown. The group aims to create about 1,000 residential units and 100,000 to 150,000 square feet of retail space clustered around Woodward Avenue and future QLine rail stops. The Platform has about $250 million in development in the works, including a planned $100 million in renovations of the landmark Fisher Building and the Albert Kahn building in New Center.

The Platform could invest around $50 million in the Wayne State deal, said Cummings.

“That is a spectacular building,” Cummings said, referring to the Kahn-designed structure. “We’ve got a lot on our plate, but we intend to get going as soon as we can now that the board approved the sale.”

Beyond the residential and retail planned, a unique feature will be the art gallery that will showcase Wayne State’s permanent art collection.

“They don’t have a space to show their great collection. They have about 6,000 pieces of art,” Cummings said. He said that includes extensive works from the Cass Corridor art movement, the underground art scene that has thrived in the area around university for decades.

The development project is expected to be complete in 2019, according to the Platform’s website.

WSU spokesman Matt Lockwood said if construction doesn’t begin within 18 months, the university can buy back the property at 80 percent of the cost.

The Cass Avenue building was first known as the Cadillac Sales and Services Building with offices and an auto showroom. It became the university’s Criminal Justice building, a 147,500 square-foot structure that has been vacant for years. At one point, it was used for Detroit Police Department training courses.

WSU President M. Roy Wilson called the building “majestic but decrepit,” and said he was glad that it was saved from being torn down so that something magnificent can be done with it.

“This is going to be a very visible development as you come down from the north part of campus,” Wilson said. “It will be the gateway to the campus from the north side.”


Twitter: @kimberkoz