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Bedrock to spend $70M to convert Free Press building

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Renovation of the Detroit Free Press building will cost $69.6 million to convert the empty, historical structure into a downtown residential tower with ground-floor retail and two floors of offices.

The estimate was released by representatives of the new owners of the building, Bedrock Detroit, during a public hearing late Tuesday at the city’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. Pending city approval of plans, construction could begin as soon as this summer. The Art Deco gem, designed by famed architect Albert Kahn, could be re-opened in 2020.

The former newspaper building at 321 W. Lafayette was bought in late 2016 by Bedrock Detroit, which controls more than 90 downtown properties. The building was home to the Detroit Free Press from 1925 to 1998. The structure has been empty since the newspaper moved out 19 years ago.

Time and neglect have left the 276,183-square-foot building “functionally obsolete,” according to documents prepared by Bedrock officials, in its application to get brownfield tax credits that would be used to offset the environmental costs for the cleanup of the building. “The building’s deterioration has left it dangerous and unable to be used” in its current state, according to the documents.

The interior finishes have been stripped, the elevators must be replaced, a new roof is needed and new windows must be installed, officials said.

The six-story building has a 14-story tower in the middle. Ground-floor retail is planned, as well as office space on the second and third floors. The remaining floors will be residential.

Efforts will be made to highlight the many decorative details of the building, Bedrock officials said.

Bedrock will agree to the city’s new community benefits ordinance for development projects that receive tax credits, the officials added. The community benefits agreement applies to developments with at least $75 million investment planned.

Though the Free Press project falls under the $75 million threshold, Bedrock said it would voluntarily work under a new ordinance aimed at ensuring Detroit-based workers and firms are heavily involved in the project. It also means a neighborhood advisory committee would be set up to essentially keep tabs on the development as it goes through the approval process.

Bedrock is seeking several tax credits on the project to help offset costs related to environmental cleanup as well as credits awarded for renovating historic structures. The building is also in one of the city’s Neighborhood Enterprise Zone, which reduces property taxes.