The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 22, 2016

Trades help write new history for repurposed Detroit News building

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor



DETROIT - While the newspaper business isn't exactly a healthy industry these days - real estate, especially in the city's downtown, is doing pretty well.

So the future looks bright for a former bastion of the printed page, the old Detroit News building, located at 615 W. Lafayette. The News has downsized and its employees have moved to smaller offices nearby. They left behind an architectural gem, and Dan Gilbert and his Bedrock-Detroit Real Estates Services have purchased the building and are renovating it for other purposes.

The renovation work is being managed by Turner Construction. Along with their subcontractors and currently, about 50 building trades union members, more than 400,000 square feet of space is undergoing renovation. The project includes rehabilitating the main five-story Albert-Kahn designed building that was completed in 1917, as well as a six-story annex building to the southwest.

Since Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert brought his company's workforce downtown in 2010, he has purchased or now controls at least 78 properties. "I still think we're just starting," Gilbert said last fall. "Detroit has just a massive upside."

At The News building, renovation work of the fifth floor of the main building and sixth floor of the annex have already been completed, and that space has been taken over by employees of Molina Health Care. Occupancy for the rest of the space is yet to be determined by Bedrock-Detroit, although the first floor seems like a good candidate for restaurant or retail space, and several published reports last year said Quicken Loans and their Rocket Fiber data center may become occupants.

"These buildings are very important to us as a company, and to the city," said Bedrock-Detroit Project Manager Brett Yuhasz, in the building's Lafayette Street lobby. "Our goal here is to keep as much of the building's history in place as possible, while re-purposing it for the 21st Century."

The main building and the annex, have, for nearly a century, taken up an important part of the streetscape on the western edge of downtown. The main building is covered with limestone and some brick, while the annex is mainly brick with limestone accents. Exterior cleaning of the masonry has already taken place.

On the interior, the renovated lobby will clearly be the building's architectural showcase. A lot of bad things happened to good, older architecture in the 1950s, and that's likely when the lobby of the News was modernized, with ornamental elements removed and a drop ceiling added to cover the original plaster ceiling. On this renovation, Russell Plastering has been hired to recreate much of the lost plaster in the Lafayette lobby, using old photos as a guide.

Albert Kahn was the architect on the original buildings, and now Albert Kahn Associates has been hired as the project architect on the renovation work. Much of the focus is on the main building.

"We're not sure when the lobby was changed, but what they did was brutal," said John Hrovat, AIA, Kahn's director of architecture and design. "Original plaster and fixtures were completely ripped out, but we have recreated all that we can. It has really been a labor of love in the lobby."

Turner Construction's Jerry Moses said one of the challenges in carrying out the building's renovation is dealing with the renovations and additions performed over the past century. "The floor levels don't match up," he said. "We have to reconfigure the HVAC connections. Fire pumps have to be rehabilitated. We're basically rehabilitating the entire building."

The only parts of the building that will look about the same are a library and some former management offices on the third and fourth floors that have some fine woodwork, which will be retained.

"This building is a great example of Kahn's early commercial work," Hrovat said. "Over the years, there have been changes to the original configuration, and our goal is to bring it back, as much as possible, to the original period of the building's construction. For the Khan firm, this building is part of our legacy. We're pleased to have a client like Bedrock that is willing to restore the building's original character."

He said one major positive aspect of the project is that Kahn's original design "was universal, it allowed itself to become re-purposed from light industrial space (there were some major league printing presses on site) to commercial space fairly easily."

"The trades have done very well for us," said Moses. "We've especially had a great collaboration with the plasterers from Russell, to recreate what was here originally."

THE DETROIT NEWS building at Lafayette and Second streets in Detroit, completed in 1917, is undergoing a major interior renovation by its new owners, Bedrock-Detroit.

CLEANING UP his plaster work on the fourth floor of the former Detroit News building is Wayne Daniels of Cement Masons & Plasterers Local 514. He’s employed by Pontiac Ceiling & Partition.

DABBING ON SOME grey primer on the fourth floor of the Detroit News Building is Jamey Humbarger of Painters District Council 1M. He’s employed by Madias Brothers.