The Detroit News started the first in a series of stories this year chronicling the restoration of two of Detroit's long vacant, historic hotel the Book-Cadillac and the Fort Shelby.
Video touring construction at the Book-Cadillac
Video tour the Fort Shelby
Once the city's pre-eminent hotel, the updated Book-Cadillac will feature 455 rooms, 67 condos, three restaurants, a spa, a sports bar and shops.
Restoring the glory
Once-grand Book-Cadillac, Pick-Fort Shelby rise from ruins
Louis Aguilar / The Detroit News
DETROIT -- In a year that seems to promise more economic body blows for this region, two of its architectural gems are striking an optimistic pose as they regain their former glory.
Skeptics recall other false starts to restore downtown Detroit's Book-Cadillac and Pick-Fort Shelby hotels, but developers involved in the current plans are upbeat. And historic preservationists are savoring the chance to revive part of the city's shining past.
The venerable high-rise hotels -- once symbols of Detroit's glamorous history as the nation's hub of innovation and productivity, now pillaged hulks -- have drawn millions of dollars in investment to the city's center.
Indeed, two $1 million-plus condominiums already have been sold -- sight unseen -- at the Book-Cadillac site, developers say. That's a milestone price and a vote of confidence in the city's revitalization.
"I've been in the economic development business for Detroit since about 1984 (and) I remember a time we had a ton of available buildings and absolutely nobody to invest in them," said George Jackson, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., a quasi-public agency that promotes economic development in the city. "Currently, if I have a property that is priced appropriately, I have no problem finding a developer."
The $180 million Book-Cadillac deal has a whopping 22 pieces of financing that includes state, federal and city tax incentives. "I've always said we should be in the Guinness Book of World Records to put that deal together," given all the different pieces of financing, Jackson said.
Monumental project begins
The Book-Cadillac is hailed as the biggest renovation project in downtown Detroit since the Fox Theatre was restored in the late 1980s. First opened in 1924, the Book-Cadillac was the city's pre-eminent hotel for six decades. Presidents, movie stars and gangsters stayed there. It closed in 1984.
Work on the Book-Cadillac, at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Michigan Avenue, began in the fall and more than 300 workers are at the site.
Its official name now is the Westin Book-Cadillac. Developers promise a 455-room Westin hotel, 67 upscale condominiums, three nationally known restaurants, a spa, a sports bar and retail shops.
A fight to save Detroit's past
The recent $73 million deal to renovate the former Pick-Fort Shelby hotel on West Lafayette Boulevard into a Doubletree Guest Suites Hotel, upscale apartments and other retail, epitomizes the tough fight to save Detroit history.
While financing pieces have been found, the developers behind the Pick-Fort Shelby say the complex deal still needs a couple weeks to close. But Detroit economic officials don't foresee it falling apart.
Then begins the massive effort to restore the building. The Detroit News will follow the restoration of the hotels online and in print throughout this year.
Both the Book-Cadillac and the Pick-Fort Shelby are salvageable, experts say, because they have steel and concrete frames even though the interiors are in shambles.
"They may look horrible, but structurally they are sound," said Elisabeth Knibbe, a historical preservationist for Quinn Evans Architects in Ann Arbor. The architect has helped to restore several downtown buildings, often serving as the expert guide on how to bring back the original look of the early 20th century buildings.
Knibbe is working on the Pick-Fort Shelby project. "That building doesn't scare me. A lot of the projects I've worked on in Detroit have looked like" the Pick-Fort Shelby, she said.
Each project takes hundreds of people, from general construction workers who must shovel out decades worth of debris to highly specialized crafts people who will try to recreate the building's look from old photos and the shards of what remains -- a piece of marble staircase or a preserved tile of decorative ceiling from a ballroom.
The Fort Shelby in 1958