Memories of the historic Hudson's store will mingle with hopes for the future Friday as Detroit breaks ground on what promises to be the city's tallest skyscraper.
Businessman Dan Gilbert and Mayor Mike Duggan will headline the groundbreaking event at the site on Woodward Avenue where the 800-foot tall, $900-million mixed-use building will rise and where the old Hudson's store stood for decades.
The new project remains unnamed at this point, referred to simply as the Hudson's site for now.
It's been a long time coming. The vacant Hudson's store, focus of so many memories for long-time Detroiters of Thanksgiving Day parades and Christmas shopping, crashed down in a mountainous cloud of dust and ash in 1998 when it was finally imploded.
In the nearly 20 years since then, the city has operated an underground garage on the site but otherwise failed to find a new use for the parcel. One Campus Martius, formerly the Compuware Building, rose just to the south along Woodward, and early 20th century buildings across the street filled up with new apartments and storefront retail. But the Hudson's site itself remained vacant, one of the city's toughest redevelopment challenges.
Now Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans and his real estate arm Bedrock, will build anew there. Renderings of the project show a stunning piece of architecture, a shimmering glass-and-steel "platform" that rises several stories joined to a towering 800-foot residential skyscraper. A viewing platform tops off the tower.
At 800 feet, the tower will rise about 70 feet higher than the Renaissance Center, which has reigned as Detroit's tallest building since it opened some 40 years ago.
The road from past to present on the Hudson's site is the story of Detroit's decline and its nascent recovery. When the old Hudson's store closed in 1984, it was one of multiple blows to Detroit's pride and self-image. Hudson's departure came amid racial unrest, population flight to the suburbs and a marked decline in the fortunes of the city's hometown corporate leaders General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.
The years between the implosion of the store in 1998 and the groundbreaking next Friday at first saw Detroit fall even further, its population dropping below 700,000 and downtown becoming a symbol of urban abandonment.
But in recent years multiple trends turned around the fortunes of downtown — the trend toward more downtown living, a successful Super Bowl XL in 2006, the city's promising trip through municipal bankruptcy in 2013-14, and the arrival of Gilbert and his company downtown in 2010.
Gilbert initially brought about 1,500 of his Quicken workers downtown with him. But since then, Quicken and its related family of companies have added at least 15,000 new workers downtown, according to Gilbert's team. The central downtown today teams with new restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores and other attractions.
The design for the Hudson's site project, crafted by SHoP architects of New York with Hamilton Anderson Associates of Detroit, tries to advance that lively interplay of people and attractions even more. The design calls for multiple street-level attractions as well as a public theater space that will seat 1,500.
Other data on the building: 1 million square feet overall; 330 apartments; 240,000 square feet of office space; 100,000 square feet of retail space; 75,000 square feet of "public" space and 700 underground parking spaces. It will take at least three years to build.
Who will occupy the building remains undecided. Gilbert may put some of his own office workers there, or lease it to another big-name tenant. Some have already suggested that Amazon could lease the space if the giant online retailer chooses Detroit for its second headquarters.
But that's a question for the future. For now, suffice it to say that Detroit has finally turned the page on one of its most historic sites. The Hudson's parcel has remained a gaping wound in the city's psyche for too long. Now, at last, the healing there has begun.
Tribune Content Agency