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Old Posted Dec 21, 2006, 1:06 PM
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Pick-Fort Shelby to get second life

Hotel, convention space, apartments slated for building now in disrepair

Louis Aguilar / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Another historic downtown Detroit building will likely go from empty eyesore back to its once lush self.

The former Pick-Fort Shelby Hotel secured the final piece of a $73 million deal Wednesday that will convert the central downtown building into a Doubletree Guest Suites Hotel, conference center and high-rise apartments. Work on the West Lafayette Boulevard building, between First and Second streets, begins next month with a target opening date in winter 2007.

"The building will be beautiful again," said Emmett Moten Jr., chief executive officer of The Moten Group, one of four developers behind the deal. "We are right on schedule."

The project will include:

A 204-room hotel operated by Doubletree, a division of the Hilton Group.

About 30,000 square feet of convention space -- enough to accommodate up to 200 people.

67 apartments that may eventually become condominiums.

Historic design will be preserved

On Wednesday, the board of the city's Downtown Development Authority agreed to accept the historic easement on the project, which essentially ensures the renovated building will look as much like its historic design as possible.

The building opened in 1917 and was originally called the Hotel Fort Shelby, named after a fort that once stood at the site. In 1927, the new taller addition was added, designed by the famed Albert Kahn. The hotel fell on hard times during the Depression but rebounded. In 1951, the Albert Pick Hotels chain bought the building and added Pick to the name.

It didn't survive the declining population of Detroit of the early 1970s. It shuttered in 1973. It briefly opened in 1974 for three months, then closed to guests. Its last tenant, a bar, left in 1998.

Interior looks like Titanic

Today, the building's inside resembles the sunken Titanic. There are shades of its former grandeur -- parts of the grand staircase remain, and patches of the once opulent ceiling can be seen in the former Crystal Ballroom.

But literally every piece of the interior looks like it will need to be restored -- much like the dramatic renovation going on at the Westin-Book Cadillac. The developers insist the building is structurally sound and the opening target date can be met.

Besides Moten, the other developers are Eugene M. Curtis and Associates; Leo D. Phillips and Co.; and RSC & Associates. Moten is a former director of Detroit's Department of Community and Economic Development under the late Mayor Coleman Young.

Project to help open doors

The planned hotel joins a rush to add 1,850 hotel rooms downtown by 2008, increasing the number of units currently available by 56 percent.

Detroit's three casinos plan to add a combined 1,200 hotel rooms at their permanent game sites. The Greektown, MGM Grand and Motor City casinos are in different stages of construction.

The long vacant Book-Cadillac Hotel on West Grand Boulevard is being converted into, among other things, a 455-room Westin Hotel.

The new hotel rooms will increase the number of downtown rooms to more than 5,100.

Area convention officials are hustling to double the number of citywide conventions in Detroit, looking to bring in tens of thousands of new visitors each year.

Michael O'Callaghan, chief operating officer and executive vice president for the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, has been enthusiastic about the Fort Shelby renovation project.

"This opens the doors for us," he said in an earlier interview. "We will have the hotel space to accommodate the existing convention space and attract four more citywide conventions of 10,000 to 15,000. "Everyone will be able to benefit."

That would be a dramatic turn of events for a city where nearly half of the hotel rooms sit empty much of the year.

You can reach Louis Aguilar at (313) 222-2760 or
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