A city holding its own in the recession

Much of the success of Midtown – as it was branded a decade ago – is a result of the strength of institutions like Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center, the Henry Ford Hospital and the Detroit Institute of Arts, all of which contribute students and employees as well as residents.

Another component of Midtown’s success is that its developers are refurbishing older buildings, using tax credits and public financing, as much as they are building from scratch.

“For a long time, there was a big effort to tear things down in Detroit,” said Michael Poris, a principal of the architecture firm McIntosh Poris Associates, which is restoring a former vaudeville house in Midtown for multiple uses. “But if we have all these great historic buildings here, why not take the historic tax credits and reuse them? Plus it’s a greener, more sustainable form of development.”

According to the CoStar Group, a real estate information firm in Bethesda, Md., the vacancy rate for office space in Midtown – including an adjacent area called New Center,  now houses state offices – stood at 8.2 percent in the second quarter of this year. The vacancy rate in Detroit’s central business district, which at 24.5 million square feet has 3.5 times the space of Midtown, was 19.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2010.

The project where Poris is restoring the former vaudeville house, the 1912 Garden Theater, includes a new three-story office building. The top two floors have been leased by the Wayne State Physicians Group, he said.

That development, which is reviving an entire block along the area’s main commercial artery, Woodward Avenue, includes construction of a 302-space parking garage and restoration of the two-story Blue Moon building, built in 1886, for office and restaurant space. After the Garden Theater is restored into a music hall and commercial space, 60 apartments will be built, Poris said.

Several buildings and sites in Sugar Hill are being redeveloped, including 71 East Garfield Street – the former site of a hotel that was destroyed by fire – which has undergone a $6 million renovation into 22 live-work spaces for artists and eight commercial spaces. Nearby, a  19th-century nurses’ home, Newberry Hall, is being redeveloped into 28 rental apartments.

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