Letter from the Editor: Prime Time

R.J. King
R.J. King

One hundred years ago, large farms that graced Big Beaver Road in Troy dominated the local economy. Even into the 1960s, early morning commuters had to wait in traffic as dairy cows crossed the road on their way from milking parlors to pastures, and back again.

Now that the farms are gone, replaced by gleaming office towers, the Somerset Collection, a major intersection at I-75, and the most dense collection of steakhouses in the state, most would assume the three-mile stretch of Big Beaver between Rochester Road and Coolidge Highway has reached its apex.

But while seemingly every luxury store and upscale restaurant counts the thoroughfare as home, there’s still plenty of unrealized potential for growth along Big Beaver, especially as city and state officials put the finishing touches on a major reconstruction of the corridor. In an economy that places a premium on speed to market, the swift commute now afforded travelers along Big Beaver is propelling another wave of development. 

Although most of the raw land bordering the thoroughfare is spoken for, look for another wave of commercial projects springing from surface parking lots, as well as developments that replace older structures. For example, the new Children’s Hospital of Michigan Specialty Center, located just west of the Detroit Marriott Troy hotel, superseded the architectural offices of the late Minoru Yamasaki.

“The commercial rent along Big Beaver ranges from $40 to $45 a square foot, which is the highest rent in the region,” says Jim Bieri, principal of Stokas Bieri Real Estate in Detroit. “The reason that area commands the highest rent is a reflection of sales. The Somerset Collection is our premium shopping mall, and people drive from all over the region to shop and dine there.” 

More growth is coming. Unicorp National Development Inc. in Orlando, which specializes in commercial projects, recently acquired the City Center office building at Big Beaver and Troy Center Drive. Offering nearly 300,000 square feet of space, the building’s most notable tenants are The Melting Pot and Morton’s Steakhouse.

Just 41 percent occupied now, plans call for filling the building’s office floors, adding four to six restaurants or retail outlets in the surface parking area along Big Beaver, replacing an aging parking deck in the rear of the structure, and developing 200 luxury apartments to the immediate, north bordering Wilshire Drive.

Most recently, two hotels were added east of City Center, along with restaurants like Bonefish Grill and Carrabba’s Italian Grill. To the west, Unicorp National Development is planning to add an Eddie V’s fine dining restaurant, which specializes in seafood and steak, and is an affiliate brand of The Capital Grille. The establishment will replace the CATS Co. building, which was recently demolished. 

Farther west, The Forbes Co., which owns or is a partner at all four corners of Big Beaver and Coolidge, including the Somerset Collection, is eyeing further development on a large parcel that once served as the headquarters of Kmart Corp. Sidney Forbes, who co-owns the parcel at the northwest corner of the intersection with Stanley Frankel, principal of Troy-based Frankel Associates, envisions a signature office building on the site, along with a five-star hotel (think Four Seasons), luxury apartments, and several shops and restaurants.

“What you’ll see in the future is more buildings bordering Big Beaver,” Bieri says. “That will make the thoroughfare more dynamic.”

— R.J. King, rjking@dbusiness.com at the end