The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 02, 2018

Now the Hudson's Hole, but a tall order awaits for the trades

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

DETROIT - Meet the site of the former home of the state's largest department store. And meet the new, future home of the state's tallest building.

Admittedly, it's not much to look at right now. The four-level, below-ground space at Woodward Avenue south of Grand River is the former site of the massive, demolished Hudson's department store, and more recently, a constructed but never used underground parking deck. 

The below-ground space that's visible now will hold a new 700-space underground parking deck, but the fun stuff is going to be built above - way above. Billionaire investor Dan Gilbert is undertaking construction of what will be a 900-foot-tall-plus residential, office, retail and public use tower that will come with a price tag of about $1 billion.

The footprint of the 1.4 million-square-foot project will take the form of a nine-story podium to the north, and an attached tower whose design is evolving, but would max out at 912 feet because of limitations of the current design of the of the tower's elevators.

Barton Malow is acting as general contractor on the project, which started with a December 2017 "groundbreaking" and has progressed through this summer and fall with clearing the site and preparation for construction. We reached out to Barton Malow for comment on the construction but never received a reply.

It's impossible to tell the story of the new tower without a look back at the iconic building that was  there. In fact, Gilbert's Bedrock real estate development team hasn't yet re-branded the project, and is calling it the "Hudson's Site." 

The 33-story, 2.2 million-square-foot J.L. Hudson's building was the tallest department store in the world and was the magnet store in downtown Detroit for decades. The city's declining population and the flight of downtown businesses to the suburbs eventually caught up with Hudson's, which closed in 1984. The department store was expanded in several phases over the prior decades, and when it closed its size made it impossible to fill with other tenants. The disjointed building also provided a challenge to the demolition company, but down it came in 1998, becoming the tallest building in the world to be imploded. 

Since then the Hudson's site along the eastern side of Woodward Avenue became a prime focus of developers downtown. After the rubble was cleared the city built a new underground parking structure at the site, as well as foundations and vertical steel columns poking up out of the ground that would support a mid-rise building of 15 stories or so. But nothing was ever developed until Gilbert purchased the site in 2016. 

It took some time to come up with a working design for the replacement tower. The first iteration, from February 2017, would have topped out with a 734 foot-tall tower, which would have overlooked by seven feet the 727-foot Marriott Hotel at Detroit's Renaissance Center. Several months later plans for the tower grew to 800 feet, and a month ago, Gilbert's people said the structure would rise to more than 900 feet. At 912 feet, the new tower would, surprisingly, only be the 82nd-tallest building among those buildings built or proposed in the U.S., according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. The current tallest is the One World Trade Center Building in New York City, at 1,776 feet. 

A fact sheet provided by the Bedrock Detroit real estate development team when plans called for the tower to be 800 feet included a ground floor market area as part of 75,000 square-feet of public space; 100,000 square feet of retail, 240,000 square feet of office space, 330 residential units in 425,000 square feet, a skydeck, and performance space with a capacity of 1,500. Work is planned to be completed in the summer of 2022.

When ground was broken at the site nearly a year ago, Gilbert said: "When we lost Hudson's, it symbolized how far Detroit had fallen. When it was imploded in 1998, it wasn't something you heard about; you saw it, you felt it. It wasn't just the building coming down it was, I think, all the memories and thoughts people had about Detroit. Detroit is coming back today."

A BELOW-GROUND parking structure has been cleared at the former site of the Hudson’s department store along Woodward in Detroit, as the trades make ready for a 912-foot skyscraper.

THE LATEST rendering of the skyscraper at the Hudson’s site. The nine story podium is connected at left. The tower is certainly a modern design, but architecturally, it incorporates some of the step-back designs and light wells of older, neighboring towers in downtown Detroit.