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Developers find creative new uses for tired, underutilized metro Detroit sites

A mall parking lot transformed into hundreds of apartments and offices.

A former newspaper building converted to a luxury car dealership.

An indoor soccer arena housing mortgage employees.

The development business is fickle and subject to a raft of external factors: materials costs on any given day, market demand, availability of labor, zoning, community reaction, financing and, in some cases, public votes or the moods of planning commissioners or zoning boards.

But when all the pieces come together, that’s when projects, some more unique than others, get done.

These are just a few of the more interesting redevelopments of tired or underutilized space taking place or envisioned around Metro Detroit.

Briarwood Mall development, Ann Arbor

It’s no secret that, in general, malls are troubled assets for a variety of reasons. Global pandemics. E-commerce. Other retail shifts.

Couple that with a unique Ann Arbor market and you have the opportunity to turn Briarwood Mall surface parking space into … not that.

Jim Chaconas, senior vice president in the Ann Arbor office of Colliers International Inc., is marketing a new development by Indianapolis-based mall owner Simon Property Group, the new owner of Taubman Cos. LLC, formerly Taubman Centers Inc.

As it’s currently envisioned, it would bring a 135,000-square-foot office building, 585 apartments and a grocery store to the eastern portion of Briarwood’s massive parking lot at South State Road and I-94.

Call the proposed future parking lot uses a sign of the times.

“The mall needs traffic,” Chaconas said. “The tech firms want to be downtown because of restaurants and shopping. But downtown has no parking. This has shopping and restaurants, and you can walk to work, you have a place to park and a restaurant to go in.”

The apartments would be built by a third-party developer on the SPG site, with site plan review this year and construction next year, and the REIT would build the office space within about 18 to 24 months once a tenant is lined up. It’s impossible to talk about creative mall space repurposing without mentioning that Ford Motor Co. several years ago leased 220,000 square feet of the Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn.

Or that the former Northland Center property in Southfield is now being mulled as eventually becoming the state’s largest apartment development with close to 3,000 units and retail space.

Former Oakland Press building, Pontiac

A luxury and rare car dealership. In downtown Pontiac. In a former newspaper building.

It took a keen eye to concoct that recipe in late 2017.

Keith Koscak, partner for LBI Limited, said it took $400,000 to strip an old The Oakland Press building down to its four walls and create a showroom that presently houses 20 to 25 specialty cars.

“It hadn’t been remodeled since the late 1980s or early 1990s,” Koscak said. “We pretty much immediately started interior demolition on the property, basically restructured the entire space that is essentially now an art gallery for special-interest automobiles.”

Among the improvements are all new electrical and HVAC systems, he said.

“It was a pretty sizable investment to bring it up to our standards,” Koscak said.

It’s the second location for the Philadelphia-based dealership that Koscak and Andrew Mastin founded.

Mastin, in a 2018 interview, said the firm specializes in “investment grade, pre-war and post-war sports cars, stuff from the 1950s and 1960s all the way up through modern exotics.”

LBI, which started in 2009, averages about $11 million annually in revenue, Mastin said in 2018.

A mild twist in one of the more unique redevelopments in Detroit’s suburbs: Instead of becoming full-time office space for United Wholesale Mortgage (NYSE: UWM), the Ultimate Soccer Arenas property is going to become an 800-person training center with multiple rooms and a 2,500-person auditorium.

The fact remains that turning that 378,400-square-foot building at 867 South Blvd. is one of the more creative space repurposings around.

One of the indoor fields will be used for the company run by Mat Ishbia, while the other three are generally going to be saved for the community to use, said Laura Lawson, executive vice president and chief people officer for UWM.

Pontiac-based United Wholesale Mortgage is buying the Ultimate Soccer Arenas property near its headquarters for yet another expansion of its corporate campus in the Oakland County seat.

That’s because adding the training centers to the company’s other buildings would take away space for employees to be together in the office setting, Lawson said, so they shifted gears.

“We like to all be connected,” she said, noting that the change in plans was made in December, a month after the company announced it was buying the property for $23.3 million.

The space is expected to open April 25, Lawson said.

George Derderian, managing partner and owner of Ultimate Soccer Arenas, sold the building but will continue as the facility’s operator through a lease agreement with the purchasing entity, Ishbia said in an interview in November.

UWM said it has added nearly 3,000 employees in 2020 alone, bringing its current workforce in Pontiac to more than 8,500.

The company has a campus footprint on the South Boulevard corridor totaling nearly 1.9 million square feet and 200 acres.

Holiday Inn, Farmington Hills

What do you do with a suburban hotel aimed at business travelers when business travel has been decimated by a global pandemic?

Look for other uses.

In this case, the Holiday Inn & Suites Farmington Hills — Detroit NW, located at 33103 Hamilton Court near Farmington Road and I-696, is being mulled as independent senior living after being battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenny Koza, president of owner Southfield-based Group 10 Management, said the 133-room hotel could become a 76-unit independent living facility although the final decision hasn’t been made.

“We just wanted to have some backup plans, really,” he said.

The possible use change was first reported by Hometown Life.

The hotel, which has been closed since April, is expected to reopen by April 1 for a trial run to see how business is and the company is expected to make a determination by the middle or end of summer on whether to convert it into a new use or continue as is.

“We hope the hotel works, but if it doesn’t, we need to explore what else to do,” Koza said.

“We are just trying to brainstorm,” Koza said, noting that his company has two other hotels nearby.

Former Motorama Motel, Ferndale

A dicey motel at one of the most culturally and historically significant intersections in the region is now market-rate apartments following a $3.7 million redevelopment.

After years of problems including drugs and fighting and police complaints, the former Motorama Motel at the northwest corner of Eight Mile Road and Woodward Avenue has created the new 35-unit Urbane Ferndale apartments.

It is now up for sale at 50-percent occupancy, with one-bedroom units renting for $925 per month.

Like the Group 10 Management redevelopment of the Holiday Inn, walls were removed, shrinking the motel from 60 rooms to 35 apartments.

The project also included updating finishes, rewiring mechanical systems, exterior renovations with new siding, paint, accents and front doors, Mike Ferlito, head of Detroit-based developer Ferlito Group, said in an interview earlier this year. His company worked on the project with Royal Oak-based Urbane Apartments, which is the property manager.

The redevelopment took about a year, wrapping up in 2020.

Converting hotel space to multifamily space has increased in prominence during the pandemic as hotels continue to feel the sting of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know a lot of hotel guys are looking for buyers,” Ferlito said.


Posted By: Crain’s Detroit Business on March 14, 2021.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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