Restoring Detroit’s Skyline
Sep 11, 2013
Located across the street from one another, the David Broderick Tower and David Whitney Building, two of the tallest unoccupied buildings in America, were twin symbols of Detroit’s decline. Yet today, with the Broderick Tower fully occupied and an ambitious renovation of the Whitney Building underway, they are symbols of the city’s rebirth.
The Broderick Tower, built in 1928, was once one of Detroit’s most magnificent structures. Along with the 98-year-old Whitney Building, one of only three surviving buildings designed by Daniel H. Burnham, the Tower served as a gateway to downtown. Both structures were left vacant after the mass migration of businesses to the suburbs in the 1980s. “They were a part not just of Detroit’s history, but a part of American history,” said David Di Rita, a member of Whitney Partners, the group leading the restoration.
Whitney Partners knew any rehabilitation project involving these two buildings would be a massive undertaking and the downturn in the economy only made matters worse. Several attempts to redevelop the buildings as residential properties went nowhere; financing was difficult to secure. It was then that Bank of America stepped up to offer its expertise.
The financing for both buildings involved a complicated series of public-private partnerships. The $53 million in financing for the Broderick Tower was provided by Bank of America, which got involved in 2008, along with Invest Detroit, Chase Bank and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network. “They saw the vision,” said Michael Higgins, a member of Whitney partners and longtime owner of the Tower.
It was 2010 when JC Beal Construction broke ground on the renovation of the 34-story Broderick Tower. The project, completed in 2012, created 127 market-rate rental units and more than 20,000 square feet of commercial space. It also created 150 temporary and 75 permanent jobs, and was quickly occupied.
Financing for the $82 million renovation of the Whitney Building was structured and underwritten by Bank of America. That project was even more complicated, said Matt Elliott, Bank of America’s Michigan President. “On this one, we kind of put the band back together and added a horn section,” he said.
Construction on the Whitney Building began in March 2013. By July 2014, the 19-floor building is expected to be converted into an Aloft boutique hotel with 135 hotel rooms, 105 residential apartments, and ground-level retail, including restaurants, a transit station and a bar.
The renovation of the Building and Tower are fulfilling the promise made during their development nearly a century ago; to make Grant Circus Park a hub of Detroit. “There’s a story of hope here,” said Elliot. “There’s a story about possibility, about what can happen now that we’re in sort of a post-industrial situation. We can’t have a strong Michigan without a strong Detroit.”