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Parade Co.’s $45M plan to buy, rehab Detroit naval armory faces setback

Posted By: Detroit Free Press on April 12, 2023.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

Fundraising challenges have forced the nonprofit organization that puts on Detroit’s annual fireworks and Thanksgiving Day parade to delay its $45 million plan to buy and redevelop a long-vacant naval armory near the Belle Isle bridge.

Detroit officials last week gave The Parade Co. a time extension to a 2021 deal to buy the 93-year-old R. Thornton Brodhead Naval Armory from the city for $300,000. The agreement expired at the end of last September, and the extension runs through this September.

Parade Co. President and CEO Tony Michaels said in an interview Tuesday that his organization still plans to buy and transform the historic armory, 7600 E. Jefferson Ave., into its new headquarters and parade float storage.

He said the original time frame for fundraising and a construction start was a bit too aggressive.

“You had the COVID situation, things slowed down all over the place,” Michaels said. “And I probably put a very aggressive timeline on my original request, which is fine — I like to get things done. But we just ran into some natural things that happened.”

He added, “It’s a chunk of money — and it just takes a little time.”

Michaels declined to say how far along fundraising is toward the $45 million goal. The project was once expected to be $40 million, but costs went up.

“I’d like to get to $30 million to $35 million, and then we’d be able to finalize the deal,” he said of the fundraising. That amount “is well within our sights,” he said.

Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield last week sent an information request to Mayor Mike Duggan’s office for an update on the project and $300,000 property deal. The letter asked whether the city would rebid the armory if the Parade Co. sale wasn’t moving forward.

A city spokesman said Tuesday that the Planning and Development Department last week gave a time extension for the pending deal through Sept. 30.

The Parade Co.’s redevelopment plan calls for saving and rehabbing the front portion of the armory that is 34,900 square feet in size. The back portion of the armory would be razed and replaced with a 127,400-square-foot building expansion.

The armory opened in 1930 and was once a training facility for sailors and Marines and the site of boxer Joe Louis’ first amateur fight.

It is on the National Register of Historic Places and features interior murals and carvings created during the Great Depression that the Parade Co. intends to preserve with guidance from a local conservator, although some of the artwork has already been destroyed by vandals.

The building is described in historic register documents as “Michigan’s quintessential example of Art Deco/Modernistic architecture in a military facility.” It has been vacant for nearly 20 years.

The Parade Co. is now aiming for a late 2026 or early 2027 completion to the armory project, Michaels said. The completed building would include an office for military veterans.  The Parade Co. would then relocate its headquarters and storage from a building on Mount Elliott Street near Coleman A. Young International Airport.  The Parade Co.’s redevelopment plan faced initial opposition from a veterans’ group known as the Brodhead Association that had its own idea for restoring the building.

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