The Detroit-based development firm Bedrock is behind the major effort to revitalize downtown Detroit, and one of its upcoming projects looks to be one of the key components to its plan. Bedrock is currently undertaking a $300 million redevelopment of a formerly vacant building in the heart of the city’s CBD, Book Tower. Renovating and restoring the historic building has taken the better part of a decade, but with the opening now finally within reach, developers and city leaders are hoping it will bring more traffic and commerce to the downtown area and be an economic boost to the entire city.
In a press release last week touting the soon-to-come completion date, Bedrock cleverly described Book Tower’s forthcoming arrival as a “new chapter” in the city’s downtown area. First kicked off seven years ago, the project’s vision came from Bedrock’s co-founder Dan Gilbert, the billionaire founder of Quicken Loans and the Rocket Companies. Described by the development team as one of the largest adaptive reuse projects in Michigan, the first three years alone were spent priming the structure for redevelopment, which entailed taking painstaking measures to maintain the integrity of historic details that had fallen into disrepair and needed a lot of restorative work. “We understood the special place Book Tower holds in the hearts of Detroiters and we made sure our work was approached with the utmost thought, care and intention,” said Kofi Bonner, CEO at Bedrock.
The original structure of what will now be Book Tower is actually made up of two connected buildings: a 38-story tower and a 13-story building designed between 1916 and 1926 for the Book brothers, three real estate investors. Book Tower, which was briefly the tallest building in Detroit, was constructed in the Italian Renaissance and Academic Classicism style. In 2015, Gilbert announced he was purchasing the property, which had been vacant since 2009, for $30 million. Soon, plans were in place to convert the project to a mixed-use complex with a total of 484,000 square feet of retail, office, residential and hospitality space.
Book Tower will have several components, including 52,000 square feet of retail and office space that will also offer co-working, meeting and event space. The development will have 229 residential apartments known as The Residences at Book Tower, and the ROOST Apartment Hotel, an extended-stay brand that will mark its entry into the Detroit market. Pre-leasing for the residential apartments will begin in April of this year. Amenities at the property will include the Terrace Club, a private space with a fireplace and sitting areas, as well as indoor and outdoor areas, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and The Study, a 3,000-square-foot co-working space on the building’s second floor.
After Gilbert and his firm acquired the property back in 2015, they knew it would be a big task to bring it back to its former glory. Book Tower had been sitting empty for more than ten years and was in a dilapidated state. The building’s marble wainscotting was shattered, electrical and plumbing systems were exposed, and the 100-year-old plaster ceiling tiles were destroyed. In getting the building ready for redevelopment, a number of tasks had to first be completed, including meticulously recreating and hand painting more than 7,000 square feet of ornate ceiling tiles in order to match the building’s original color and design. Throughout the building, 50,000 square feet of marble was reinstalled. The building’s windows, which numbered nearly 2,500, were replaced with modern windows that are more energy efficient but also resemble the historic design.
As renovations were taking place on the project in 2017, Gilbert announced Bedrock’s plan to invest more than $2 billion in four historic sites in downtown Detroit over the next several years. Launched more than a decade ago, Bedrock has been busy developing properties in the urban core of Midwestern cities in need of revival after major industries that once powered their economies—in these cases, steel—left. In Detroit alone, the firm has a portfolio of more than 100 properties encompassing more than 19 million square feet. The firm announced its latest investment in the city in February, which will be a 1.5 million-square-foot development that is slated to include 280 residential units, restaurants, retail and 400,000 square feet of Class A office space.
In Cleveland, where Bedrock’s Gilbert also owns NBA franchise the Cleveland Cavaliers, the company launched a project in 2021 that could involve up to 3.5 million square feet across 35 acres and include 2,000 housing units and 1.4 million square feet of residential space. Bedrock envisions its waterfront plan to take shape over the next couple of decades and be a catalyst for the city. Last month, Bedrock presented plans for a major expansion of Tower City Center, a sprawling mixed-use property it bought in 2016, that would include a brand-new, 12-acre park along the Cuyahoga River, which winds its way through the city’s downtown area.
The plan isn’t necessarily a new one. Other cities with similar backstories as Detroit have seen success with redevelopment projects in blighted areas. In Pittsburgh, a city synonymous with steel, leaders looked to spur more economic development through projects in neighborhoods like the Strip District, where empty warehouses were converted into space for restaurants, retail and other uses. These projects effectively turned the neighborhood into a historic market district, making it one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods.
Baltimore’s steel industry also collapsed in the 1970s, leaving behind a number of abandoned factories and warehouses. But the city took on several redevelopment projects in a bid to revitalize the areas, including the Inner Harbor project. And in Buffalo, New York, once a mighty steel town, projects like Canalside along the city’s waterfront have been aimed at helping revive neglected areas.
It’s been a long road for the Book Tower redevelopment, which had some bumps along the way. Not long after construction began on the project, Bedrock rolled out an ad campaign promoting the redevelopment efforts in the city’s downtown core, including an ad that generated enormous backlash from Detroit residents who saw the ad as being tone-deaf and promoting gentrification. Gilbert and Bedrock apologized for the ad, and the project continued on track without any issues for a while—until 2020. The pandemic led to a brief pause in construction on the project, but construction eventually resumed.
Finally, after a long road of meticulous renovations and restoration aimed at preserving historic elements of the property while adding modern updates, the project is nearly complete, and Bedrock is hoping the development will be a hit with Detroiters. Given how well other urban neighborhoods in places like Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Baltimore have fared after major mixed-use redevelopments helped revitalize the area, and given the numerous other projects Bedrock has in the works in Downtown Detroit, the future looks good for Book Tower, and the city too.