Downtown Birmingham Evaluates Plans for Woodward Bates Redevelopment


A redevelopment of city-owned property in downtown Birmingham, a four-acre parcel at Willits and Bates streets that today includes an aging parking deck along North Old Woodward and a surface lot behind the structure, was moved to the city commission for review last week. The Birmingham Ad Hoc Parking Development Committee was formed to evaluate four responses for the site from a request for proposal issued by the city, and make a recommendation. The city calls the effort the Bates Street Extension Project.

The committee, made up of Birmingham business owners and public officials, recommended a project from Woodward Bates to the city commission for further discussion. The group’s proposal includes new mixed-use buildings along Willits and a planned extension of Bates (which today ends at Willits), as well as a total of 1,150 parking spaces (an addition of 380 spaces from the 770 parking spots now available).

Two of the four development proposals were dropped, leaving Woodward Bates and TIR Equities for review. A $300-million plan by TIR Equities, led by managing member Ara Darakjian, calls for four levels of underground property for 1,778 spaces that would service 60,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, 371 apartments including one building that would be 15 stories high, 25,000 square feet of office space, a park, a plaza, and other amenities.

Darakjian says his proposal, which includes Robert J. Gibbs, president of Gibbs Planning Group in Birmingham, and was designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects in New York City, met the city’s criteria in the RFP. But the commission noted the plan includes a request for a tax increment finance district to be set up to help fund the development, along with the use of future parking revenue. According to the committee, the city’s RFP stated that no city subsidies were to be used in the project.

“Since the property is owned by the city, height restrictions do not apply (private parcels in the downtown district are subject to a five-story height restriction), and the financing takes into account that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring a major development to downtown Birmingham,” says Darakjian. He adds his project would generate $2.6 million in annual property taxes, while the Woodward Bates project would raise $200,000 in annual property taxes.

“At the same time, there is a lot of development going on in downtown Detroit and Midtown that is pulling away businesses and residents from the suburbs. People want a safe, well-designed, urban lifestyle, and our plan would bring approximately 600 new residents (living in 371 apartments) to downtown Birmingham. What we’re asking the city to do is evaluate a well-intentioned, creative plan.”

Woodward Bates, with a team that includes Paul Robertson, chairman and CEO of Robertson Brothers Homes in Bloomfield Hills, Victor Saroki, president of Saroki Architecture in downtown Birmingham, John Rakolta Jr., chairman and CEO of Walbridge in Detroit, among others, said its plan meets all of the city’s requirements and does not need city funding.

As part of the committee’s recommendation, it suggested the city commission retain a development consultant to help oversee negotiations with a final developer. The city could also issue a second RFP or construct the parking deck itself, along with public improvements that would provide access to the Rouge River immediately north of the site.

More coverage about major redevelopment projects underway or planned in downtown Birmingham can be found in the May/June issue of DBusiness magazine, now available on newsstands.

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