Bedrock Detroit has brought back yet another building.
The Dan Gilbert–owned development company has restored numerous historic downtown structures, including the Rayl Building (now the Shinola Hotel), State Savings Bank and the David Stott Building.
The latest entry is the Detroit Free Press Building, now called The Press/321 — renamed for its address at 321 W. Lafayette Blvd. The building’s damaged interior was gutted to make way for 105 apartments. There will also be first-floor retail and two full floors, or around 50,000 square feet, of office space — though no anchor tenants have been announced yet.
Designed by Albert Kahn and built in 1925, the Art Deco gem was the headquarters for the Detroit Free Press for nearly 75 years before shrinking staff forced the paper to move in 1998. The building, which looks like a smaller version of the Kahn-designed Fisher Building, sat vacant until it was bought by Bedrock in 2016 for $8.4 million.
Now, after a modern facelift costing around $110 million, tenants are just beginning to move in. Bedrock recently gave The Dig and other members of the media a tour of the building. We witnessed a pretty stunning transformation, though there are a few details still to be finished.
The limestone exterior, with its two wings and 14-story tower, remains largely the same after a power wash and new windows. That includes carvings by sculptor Ulysses Ricci, like the statues of Commerce and Communication surrounding the arched front entrance. The only other area that looks like its original state is the shimmering marble lobby with its vaulted ceiling.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of the interior had degraded in the 20 years that the building was vacant — a combination of vandals, scrappers, a leaky roof and exposure to the elements. Adjacent to the lobby, a wood-paneled “advertising room” awaits a tenant and restoration. The terrazzo floors have also been repolished.
Little else was salvageable. The former marble walls lining the hallways, for example, were replaced with porcelain tile by Bedrock.
The renovated apartment units come with an island kitchen leading to an open-floor plan dining and living room area. There are stainless steel appliances, quartz countertops and fixtures with matte black finishes. One neat design feature is the wood-paneled feature wall that comes in each apartment.
“It’s a direct interpretation of some of the historic elements on the first floor, specifically the advertising room,” said Jaimee Pachla, interior designer at Bedrock.
The views were especially impressive in all the apartments we toured, whether looking out towards the Book Tower (also being redeveloped by Bedrock) or the Detroit River. Residents will also have access to some in-house amenities, including an exercise room and lounge — where large skylights were added — as well as a rooftop pool that is still under construction.
Rents at The Press/321 start at $995 for a 500-square-foot studio and go up to $3,405 for a 1,234-square-foot, three-bedroom unit.
Another innovative feature will be the building’s automatic parking system, which Bedrock is calling the first of its kind in the Midwest.
“It’s like a vending machine for cars,” said Sam Rouse, development manager at Bedrock.
When residents arrive at the underground garage — which was formerly the paper’s printing press — they’ll leave their car on a platform which will “file” it away. When they want to take their car out, they’ll order it through a phone app or at the lobby kiosk, where it will be delivered to the dock. The smart software, designed by Dasher Lawless Automation, will even track which cars are used with more frequency, filing them closer to the entrance for more efficient pickup. The whole system will be ready sometime in 2021.
The modern turn in this nearly 100-year story was a delight to see firsthand. If nothing else, whenever an Albert Kahn building is saved, it’s cause for celebration.