District Detroit Pursues Architectural Diversity, Eyes Shops Over I-75

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Rather than design uniform buildings for the 50-block area called District Detroit that surrounds the upcoming Little Caesars Arena, Olympia Development, a division of Ilitch Holdings Inc., owners of the Detroit Red Wings, is taking a cue from the city’s historic neighborhoods to set the tone for the emerging urban enclave.

As an example, the four-story administration building for the Detroit Red Wings now under construction along the western side of Woodward Avenue, just north of I-75, will appear as three different structures. One façade will feature steel I-beams and glass panels, while the next will be made of limestone and the most northern exterior will be made of brick and mortar.

“We wanted the building to have beautiful contrasts and appear as if it has been there a long time,” says Tom Wilson, president of Olympia Development. “If you’re walking down Woodward when everything is done, you will see restaurants and retail stores on the first floor, and it will feel authentic to Detroit. If you’re looking at it from across the street, it will feel like you’re in a neighborhood that’s been there for decades.”

He adds residential lofts will be built on the outer edges of parking decks to the west of the arena, again to add to the visual appeal. As outside developers are encouraged to develop a five-star hotel, along with office and residential uses in the immediate area, he says Olympia Development is setting the design standard to bring an authentic feel to the district.

In turn, the company is working with the Michigan Department of Transportation, which maintains both Woodward and I-75 that passes south of the arena project, to determine the feasibility of adding a row of two-story buildings on either side of the overpass. If the structures are built, pedestrians and motorists passing over the Woodward overpass wouldn’t be able to see much, if any, of the freeway below.

“We’re working with MDOT to see if we can do it, and then we would have to fund it, but the goal would be to have it framed in by the time (the arena opens in September 2017),” Wilson says. “It could be restaurants, but more likely retail. The long-term vision would be to have a continuous retail and restaurant experience (along Woodward) from Jefferson Avenue all the way to the arena and beyond it.”

In related news, Wilson says Olympia Development recently saw ground broken on a new, multilevel parking deck immediately north of Comerica Park. He says the goal is to open the deck in time for Opening Day next spring.

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