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Old Redford project revives historic bank building

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

The corner of Grand River Avenue and Lahser Road on Detroit's west side has a new look that includes a restored 103-year-old building. 

The historic bank building was renovated into an apartment with housing units and 8,800 square feet of retail space and is open for tenants. 

The $3.6 million renovations come thanks to Mayor Mike Duggan's Strategic  Neighborhood Fund, an initiative that's renovating neighborhoods across the city. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan takes a walk through of the Obama Building in Detroit’s Old Redford neighborhood on the city’s west side, November 12, 2020. The $3.6 million renovation of the historic bank building at Grand River Avenue and Lahser Road will bring four affordable, loft apartments and 12,000 square feet of retail space, in Detroit.

"This Old Redford neighborhood was once extremely vibrant with commercial border and it's starting to become vibrant again," said Duggan. "What you're seeing here is long-vacant buildings are being renovated and people of all incomes are moving in. This is our vision for the city."

The space was named the Obama Building and will have four apartment units that will be offered at 60% to 75% area median income. There will be eight retail storefronts available for first-time and expanding entrepreneurs. 

The Obama Building project comes two years after Duggan announced that the Strategic Neighborhood Fund developments would extend to the Old Redford community; it's the first project there. 

A neighborhood advisory council received public input on issues ranging from the type of businesses that will be allowed to the name of the building. The council also will decide how any excess revenue from the building is deployed for community-facing activities. 

"We're looking at commercial corridors just like this particular corridor in Old Redford ... to spark further investments such that these neighborhoods can have a more vibrant, thriving (community) and access to all tools necessary for a resident," said Keona Cowan, the executive vice president of lending for Invest Detroit, an organization that has a public-private partnership with the city. 

All prospective tenants will be screened by the council, which is composed of neighborhood stakeholders. The council also decided that nonresidential tenants should include those who "embraced a theme of health and wellness" so the first will be the nonprofit Changing Lives & Staying Sober. 

The apartment units will be above the retail spaces and will include:

  • Two studios renting at $775-$825 a month.
  • One, one-bedroom apartment renting at $875 a month.
  • One, two-bedroom apartment renting at $1,200 a month. 

The building was named after a painting by Detroit artist Chazz Miller of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dancing. The painting hung in the abandoned bank building for years and was restored to be prominently displayed in the renovated structure. 

"We've gotten a ton of inquires, I think everybody coming down Grand River kind of sees the marketing ... we've been showing spaces, so we imagine those will go pretty fast," said Brandon Hodges, senior developer manager with The Platform, the building's developer. 

A lease has been signed for one of the apartment units already and there are plans to have a restaurant in one of the retail spaces, Hodges said.

The Platform started renovations in November 2019.  The Obama is the second completed project citywide to receive funding through the Strategic Neighborhood Fund. Partnered with Invest Detroit, the fund initiative raises money from philanthropic partners and invests that money into 10 neighborhoods across the city. 

The fund has raised just shy of its $59 million goal and $300,000 of that was invested into the Obama. Other investments in the Obama include a $1.23 million loan from Horizon Bank, $750,000 from the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, and a $750,000 CRP grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

The building, designed by architect C. William Palmer, opened in 1917 and was a Peoples State Bank branch, which closed in 1931 during the Great Depression. The structure then became home to a Stein’s Department Store, among other tenants. 

The building suffered from neglect and deterioration, including a collapsed roof, after being abandoned for at least a decade.