Buildings In Time

From jewelry to historic buildings, Roger Basmajian embraces urban redevelopment.
Built in 1925 for First State Bank, the four-story structure at Lafayette and Griswold (751 Griswold) in downtown Detroit was acquired by Roger Basmajian, president of Detroit-based Basco Inc. a restoration into offices and a first-floor showroom, which includes a mezzanine level, is underway and is projected to be completed by the end of the year.

Growing up in the jewelry business, Roger Basmajian developed a taste for the finer things in life. But while he can easily discern a ruby from an emerald, his passion is acquiring, restoring, and leasing classical buildings, especially in urban districts.

After graduating from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor with degrees in architecture and business, Basmajian started working on design projects. Soon after, however, his family asked him to return to Giorgio Conti Jewelers in Southfield, where he had worked as a teenager. The switch was short-lived, and in 2000, Basmajian launched Basco Inc., a real estate investment and development firm with offices in Southfield and downtown Detroit.

Since then, Basmajian has acquired six properties in Detroit, including the Shelby Congress Building and 220 W. Congress near Cobo Center; the historic 751 Griswold Building, designed by Albert Kahn; 44 Michigan Ave., next to the 1001 Woodward Building; 1322 Broadway, near Punch Bowl Social; and a property in the east riverfront district.

All of the buildings are in various stages of restoration, including the four-story 751 Griswold structure at the corner of Lafayette and Griswold. Plans call for a showroom on the first floor and three levels of office space. The first floor of the 25,000-square-foot structure, built in 1924, includes a mezzanine.

“I’m really pleased to be renovating an Albert Kahn building,” Basmajian says. “It was originally outfitted with a lot of windows as well as intricate stone and plaster work, all of which we’re restoring. A bank built the building, so the owners wanted to convey through extra attention to ornamentation that it was a safe place to deposit money. We plan to have it open this year.”

At the neighboring Shelby Congress (607 Shelby) and 220 Congress (called 220 West) buildings, Basmajian and his team are cleaning out the floors, adding new mechanical and air-handling systems, and knocking down interior walls. Atop 220 Congress, Basmajian plans to add a deck that will be co-shared with tenants from Shelby Congress.

“A lot of companies are looking for open space, exposed ceilings, lots of windows, raw surfaces, and high-speed (Internet) connections,” he says. “For 607 Shelby, we plan to have a restaurant on the first floor, and we’ve received a lot of traction from tech-loft users looking to be in the heart of the financial district.”

Basmajian also has acquired buildings in downtown Ferndale and along Main Street in downtown Royal Oak — including Metals In Time at Main and Fourth (in an historic bank). His brother, Sergio, runs the jewelry businesses. “It’s a great partnership,” Roger says.