Detroit's 104-year-old Obama Building reopens as home to businesses, affordable apartments

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Excitement was as bountiful as the sunshine that peeked through the skies Saturday while residents, business owners and others attended the dedication of The Obama Building in the Old Redford neighborhood on the city's west side.

City and state officials along with about 250 others attended ceremonies to mark the opening of the 104-year-old building on Grand River and Lahser, which was once a bank and will now house businesses and four affordable apartments.

The historic Obama Building in northwest Detroit is dedicated Saturday afternoon, September 25, 2021, during the inaugural Artist Village Detroit Arts Festival in Old Redford. (Todd McInturf, The Detroit News)2021.

The event was part of the inaugural Artist Village Detroit Arts Festival.

"The Obama Building has already become a key piece of this community," Detroit Blight Busters founder John George, a key organizer and participant in the revitalization of the Old Redford area, said Saturday. "It is also proof that when you take the power of positive thinking and apply a large dose of elbow grease, anything is possible.

"What we are doing is truly a team effort, and wouldn't have been possible without the Blight Busters and Artist Village crew and our friends at The Platform."

John George, left, executive director of Detroit Blight Busters Inc., dances with his granddaughter, Sophie-Ray Sleiman, 3, and community friend, Kaden Gordon, 7, all of Detroit, Saturday afternoon, September 25, 2021.

Detroit artist Charles "Chazz"  Miller, founder of the Artist Village, a program of Detroit Blight Busters, said Saturday, "I used to tell people what this place, this neighborhood, could one day become, and they told me I was a crazy. But look at it now. It’s beautiful, just absolutely beautiful."

Detroit artist Charles "Chazz" Miller poses in front of his mural "First Dance," inside the historic Obama Building in northwest Detroit, Saturday afternoon, September 25, 2021.

The Obama Building's name was adopted from Miller's portrait of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dancing in the artwork called "First Dance" and formerly graced the exterior of the historic building before the $3.6 million renovation.

Miller’s inaugural exhibit, “Yes, We Can,” features the restored and "reimagined" “First Dance” mural and is now on display in the gallery.

Luther "Badman" Keith plays the guitar with his band, Saturday afternoon, September 25, 2021.

Peter Cummings, executive chairman and CEO of the Platform, owns the Obama Building. He told the crowd gathered for the event Saturday that while the project was not one of the biggest he's been involved in, it was no less important.

"It's unlike any project we've done in the city of Detroit," said Cummings. "It's smaller but it's measured by the impact on the community."

Cummings announced that all four of the small businesses leasing space in the Obama Building are owned by African American women. 

Yvette Ruffin, who is head of the Malvern Neighborhood Association in Detroit, said she is happy to see the building renovated and opened.

"We're hoping it revitalizes the neighborhood," said Ruffin Saturday. "We're glad they kept the Obama name."

Yelena Ramautar, a member of Community Development Advocates of Detroit, who attended the event with Ruffin, said, "It's wonderful that there's revitalization happening in the neighborhood."

Ramautar said she was glad that Cummings and other sought "community engagement" before they decided what the name of the building should be.