Photo Credit:  Elisabeth Knibbe, Quinn Evans Architects

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Knibbe, Quinn Evans Architects

Midtown Detroit, Inc. (MDI) has just signed a purchase agreement and will be closing within the month on the purchase of a historic church building in the emerging Sugar Hill Arts District.  This structure has sat abandoned since 2007 and is much in need of repairs—portions of walls, floors and ceilings are destroyed or falling apart, and some areas are strewn with building and household debris.  The boiler was even ripped out by thieves once the building was vacated.  Restoring this structure will be expensive and difficult, and not for the faint of heart—but it is too good of a building to allow it to be demolished.  One can easily envision its redevelopment.  The structure is sound and constructed from brick and stone—it has good bones and Gothic Revival details that most developers could never afford to include in new builds:  thick limestone walls, pointed arched window frames and hallways, a vaulted dark wood ceiling, along with some of the original hand-forged light fixtures.

Saving this structure allows us to maintain some of the historic character of the Sugar Hill Arts District.  This is not our first experience with historic preservation and development.  One of the organizations signature projects is the Inn on Ferry Street, a 40-room historic hotel that opened in 2001.  This historic renovation of an entire block of 1880’s mansions and carriage houses cost approximately $8.5M and has won numerous local, regional and national preservation awards.  MDI is also currently partnering on the development of the Forest Arms Apartment building, an iconic 4-story, U-shaped building that was constructed in 1905. The building is one of the largest and most beloved buildings in the Midtown district that was damaged by a major fire in 2008.  The total renovation cost of this project is approximately $9M.   There are a handful of other historic redevelopment projects MDI is currently partnering on, but most relevant to this ArtPlace-funded project has been the recent redevelopment of  71 E. Garfield, which created 22 live/work spaces and 8 art studio/retail spaces for artists and others in creative industries within the Sugar Hill Arts District, at the cost of $7.8M.  MDI and its partners worked with Quinn Evans Architects on this project, a firm that specializes in the adaptive use of historic structures, and has chosen to work with them again to rejuvenate this church building.

Historic preservation projects are not easy in any city, and just recently the Michigan Historic Tax Credits were voted out by state legislature in May 2011.  Though the new legislation will not take effect until January 2011, it is still a sober reality which will make it even more difficult to raise the necessary funds for our rehabilitation efforts.   This church lends itself to be an incredible and intimate space—the possibilities are endless of how this space can ultimately be used to support arts and culture, but potential funding streams are not.  MDI is currently researching various models and pathways for the redevelopment of this building and anticipates that a phased and minimalist approach will more than likely be adopted.  It is our hope to transform this church into a community performing arts center that is well integrated into the Sugar Hill Arts District while creatively using our funding sources.  We are conscious that we will more than likely have to move away from previous redevelopment practices and develop new ideas and partnerships in order to assemble adequate financing to launch this project.  We welcome this challenge and hope to have a powerful impact on this district—even if we have to pass the church collection plate to make it happen.


Photo Credit:  Elisabeth Knibbe, Quinn Evans Architects
Photo Credit:  Annmarie Borucki, Midtown Detroit, Inc.
Photo Credit:  Jonathan Miller, Inn on Ferry Street

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