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Who owns downtown Detroit? Local governments aren't the big spenders anymore

By KIRK PINHO November 14, 2015

It wasn't long ago that governments made big splashes in greater downtown real estate, buying landmark properties and turning them into executive offices.

These days, however, you'd be hard-pressed to find a real estate broker who reasonably expects a governmental unit to be a serious contender for greater downtown property in Detroit.

Case in point: Since the beginning of 2013, government units have only purchased two properties downtown. Those buildings, in Capitol Park and Paradise Valley, total just shy of 8,000 square feet.

Compare that with 2000 to 2010, when governmental units purchased 2.32 million square feet of space ranging from large office buildings to land, from parking decks to smaller properties inside the central business district, according to an analysis of property sales listed by CoStar Group Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based real estate information service.

All told, a Crain's review of 141 downtown properties shows that governmental/public ownership is down to seven properties, representing just 5 percent (rounded numbers) of those surveyed. But those properties account for 15 percent (2.6 million square feet) of the square footage (about 17 million square feet).

By comparison, Dan Gilbert and his related companies own 40 percent of the surveyed properties, totaling 7 million square feet, and other private owners own 52 percent of the properties, totaling 7.3 million square feet. Nonprofit and religious organizations own 4 percent of the properties, totaling 1 percent of the total 17 million square feet.


There were two giant government deals from 2000-2011. Wayne County bought the 643,000-square-foot Guardian Building at 500 Griswold St. downtown as part of a portfolio deal for $14.5 million from Detroit-based Sterling Group in 2008. 

In 2011, the Michigan Strategic Fundpurchased Cadillac Place outright from New Center Development Inc., an ownership entity in which the state had an ownership stake as part of a deal hammered out afterGeneral Motors Corp. left the 1.36 million-square-foot New Center area office complex for the Renaissance Center. The last of 5,200 GM employees moved into the RenCen from the Albert Kahn-designed Cadillac Place on West Grand Boulevard in 2001. 

But times have changed. 

Governments, particularly the county and the city of Detroit, are much more wary of making significant real estate deals. Simply put: Detroit, which emerged from its historic Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy a year ago, and Wayne County, which is operating under a consent agreement, don't have the cash to invest in downtown property. In fact, both governments have been unloading or are looking to unload some of their key properties in cost-savings efforts. 

Among them: The Guardian Building itself, which the county bought in 2008 along with the First Street Parking Garage and the building at 511 Woodward Ave., and the Old Wayne County Building; the county had owned the land on which the 226,000-square-foot building, built between 1897 and 1902, sits. 

The building had been Wayne County's executive office home until it purchased the Guardian Building following a disagreement with the previous owner, Old Wayne County Building LP, over rental rates. The Old Wayne County Building sold for $13.4 million to 600 Randolph SN LLC, a private New York-based investor. 

The county also sold the Philip J. Neudeck office building at 415 Clifford St. last year to businessman Joe Barbat, who plans a multifamily conversion, for $2.3 million. 

Detroit also sold its former fire department headquarters building at 250 W. Larned St. to a Chicago-based hotel company that plans a hotel conversion with 80 rooms in a $28 million redevelopment of the 63,000-square-foot building. A number of properties, including the Joe Louis Arena and some riverfront land, among others, also went to bond insurers Syncora Guarantee Inc. and Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. during Detroit's bankruptcy.


Dan Gilbert

So just as the city and county have been eager sellers of unused or underutilized properties in efforts to bring in revenue and cut operating expenses, there too have been an increasing number of eager buyers downtown looking to capitalize on higher property values and demand for things like multifamily housing and quality office space.

A review of CoStar data shows that between 2005 and 2010, there were just 29 total downtown property sales. That has increased steadily every year since as market conditions and demand improve, growing from 15 sales in 2011 to 41 last year. As of Nov. 3, there had been 25 total this year, according to CoStar.

Yes, an undeniable factor in the increase is Dan Gilbert's downtown buying spree. But smaller yet formidable private investors and property owners also are stepping up downtown.

"The key factor is that we don't need (government deals) the way we used to need them," said AJ Weiner, managing director in the Royal Oak office of Jones Lang LaSalle. "When the market was extremely soft and there was a limited amount of real estate activity, you needed the state and city to step up" with things like tax incentives.

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Curbed O'Ween Day 4: Detroit's Spookiest Places Mapped

By Rebecca Golden October 20, 2015
Detroit is home to some notoriously terrifying places. Check out this fun map for our choices of the most haunted, spookiest, or simply Halloween-y places in the area. We've got old favorites, newly terrifying places and even a couple of film locations that should generate fun ideas for everyone's favorite autumn holiday.
Detroit's Spookiest Places
The headline screamed “POISONING IS MANIA OF WOMAN,” and the woman in question, Rose Barron, poisoned more than ten people at the Alhambra Apartments. The building still stands, though the inside is basically a ruin. Barron was supposedly demoted from her cook’s job at the Alhambra, then a rooming house. She put arsenic in dinner rolls of guests in retaliation. The Call article also says that Barron lost several family members who coincidentally carried insurance policies she benefited from.
The home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra owes its existence to one of its pioneering directors, Ossip Gabrilowitsch. Gabrilowitsch threatened to quit the orchestra unless a new hall was constructed. Rumors persist that Orchestra Place is haunted by the late conductor’s ghost—visitors and workers in the theater described hearing footsteps with no one else present, hearing mysterious voices feeling inexplicably and suddenly chilled and seeing actual apparitions of Gabrilowitsch backstage. The late conductor, son-in-law of famed American writer Mark Twain, is buried in Twain’s family plot in Elmira, New York.
Detroit metro’s oldest bar, the Two Way Inn opened in 1876 and a hotel, and did stints as a brothel, general store and an even a jail. Today, it’s a shot-and-beer sort of place, and patrons swear they’ve seen the ghost of an old cowboy (maybe from the western part of Michigan?). This ghost, supposedly a former lodger, rented digs in the inn and died there, in one of the old hotel rooms. Today, the bar is owned and run by Mary Aganowski whose father bought the place in 1973.
The basement at Saint Andrew’s Hall, a performance space called The Shelter where Eminem famously got his start, is also known as a ghostly haunt where an angry spirit chases people up the steps. Formerly home to the St. Andrew’s Society of Detroit, a social club made up of wealthy Scots Americans, Saint Andrew’s Hall opened in 1907. As a performance venue, Saint Andrew’s Hall offers a ballroom, 35-foot-long bar, and a VIP balcony with amazing stage views for concerts and other special events.
This Brush Park mansion, the setting for the best indy vampire movie ever to star Tilda Swinton, has developed a weird following on Curbed. It’s maybe haunted, maybe not. But definitely the home to weird vampire memories courtesy of Swinton and company. You can also stay there for $99 a night. We can’t wholeheartedly recommend that, unless you loved the movie to a paranormal degree. For that price, you could get a great hotel room and enjoy 2015 perks like indoor pools and hot tubs, room service, cable, and sometimes even free breakfast. Also, no shared toilet. The house, originally built by Mason and Rice (Albert Kahn’s one-time employers) in 1882, the home was later remodeled by David Whitney Jr.
This historic Detroit cemetery is the final resting place of Detroit mayors (Albert Cobo, James J. Couzens, Hazen Pingree), and automakers (both Dodge Brothers, Edsel and Eleanor Ford, and William Clay Ford, Sr.). The burial ground also memorializes Clarence L. Franklin, noted Baptist minister and the father of Aretha Franklin. Actress Susie Garrett, a star of Punky Brewster and sister of actress Marla Gibbs, as well as Motown greats David Ruffin, Levi Stubbs, Barbara Randolph and gospel star Ronald Winans rest at Woodlawn, alongside civil rights legend Rosa Parks. We can’t ascribe otherworldly activity to the cemetery, although the city’s ghost hunters might beg the point. It’s a beautiful old place, though, and haunting as a sacred space where the living contemplate mortality.
Used as a backdrop in indy horror breakout hit It Follows, the long-abandoned factory has seen some of the most devastating effects of bad economies and troubled times. While the movie’s main characters come from the burbs, the sexual tryst that transfers a terrible curse takes place at the old auto plant.
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Wells Fargo offers $15K down payment help to home buyers

By John Gallagher Detroit Free Press September 21, 2015

Potential home buyers in Detroit and other communities will soon have a new source of down payment assistance from a Wells Fargo bank special program.

Wells Fargo next month will offer its Home Lift program that includes $15,000 down payment assistance grants to first-time home buyers and others who do not own their own home. With $5.25 million earmarked, Wells Fargo says about 250 grants can be made. The program includes home buying counseling.

Residents in Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Dearborn and Livonia are eligible. The bank is looking for home buyers with annual incomes that do not exceed 120% of the local area median income — about $81,250 for a family of four in the five Wayne County cities, according to Wells Fargo.

Applicants must meet certain other criteria, including completing an eight-hour home buyer education session with Southwest Solutions, a U.S.-government-approved counselor. Participants also must commit to live in the home for five years and qualify for a first mortgage on the property.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan applauded the program.

“Making homeownership more affordable will help hard-working families and individuals to achieve home ownership, which will strengthen our neighborhoods,” he said.

“While the Wayne County economy is showing signs of improvement, many families have yet to re-enter the housing market because they struggle with making a down payment,” said Russ Cross, a senior vice president with Wells Fargo. “Combined with financial education, these down payment assistance grants can make a tremendous difference for people who want to own a home in one of these five Wayne County cities.”

So far, Cross said, the Home Lift program has assisted nearly 10,000 home buyers in more than 30 cities across the U.S.

Potential home buyers should register for a Wells Fargo introductory two-day event Oct. 9-10 at Cobo Center. Prospective buyers can register and learn more about the program at or by calling 866-858-2151. Pre-registration is strongly recommended.

Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173,, @jgallagherfreep

Residents in Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Dearborn and Livonia are eligible.
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