Whether or not Gilbert’s tower rises, Detroit’s skyline poised to grow

Renderings via Bedrock Detroit/SHoP Architects/Hamilton Anderson Associates.

Dan Gilbert, the mortgage and real estate billionaire, has proposed building Detroit’s highest skyscraper on the vacant former site of the legendary J.L. Hudson’s department store along Woodward. If built, the development would transform the city’s skyline and add a sleek dash of modernism to a collection of mostly pre-war skyscrapers.

Whether the $700 million-plus development actually gets built depends on whether the Legislature approves a proposal to allow developers of so-called “transformational projects” to capture tax incentives to offset development costs. That, along with the development’s aesthetics, seems to have divided public opinion.

But the Hudson’s Site follows a 2013 proposal from real estate developer Schostak Bros. to build a 16-story new office tower that would have housed Meridian Health but was never was built. (Gilbert’s team has also expressed interest in developing towers on that site.) Aside from the 30-floor Greektown Casino Hotel, which was completed in 2009, and One Kennedy Square in 2005, no new towers have been built in Detroit since the early 1990s.

Gilbert has said downtown Detroit is fast running out of office space and must add density.

“We’ve reached an inflection point in Detroit: we need to ‘go vertical’ with large-scale projects to keep the positive momentum going,” the project’s website reads. “The Hudson’s site is important for the history of Detroit. And it’s a symbol of downtown’s journey to reclaim its place as an urban center that competes with other cities across the country. We need to bring jobs, talent, business, investment and growth to Detroit, as well as provide opportunity for Detroiters.”

A good look for Detroit?

Designed by New York City-based SHoP Architects in partnership with Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson Associates, the tower would rise 734 feet and 52 stories, which, though modest by comparison with most major cities, would be the tallest building in Detroit by seven feet. It would include 250 residential units and be combined with a nine-story structure together totaling 1.5 million gross square feet.

The swirling metal and glass tower — along with the asymmetrical facade of the nine-story office building — deviate considerably from the status quo of Detroit skyscrapers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely a thing.

Personally, I like the sense of motion conveyed by the office building and its unorthodox, undulating lines. The rendering of the interior looks spacious and breathtaking. We could probably use some fresh and modern flourishes in our downtown.

But I don’t necessarily understand how the two structures are related, and the tower design doesn’t wow me, even if I don’t exactly negatively react to it. I’m not opposed to glass towers per se — I like the aforementioned Greektown Casino Hotel, and I love how the new One World Trade Center in New York catches and refracts light. But this one leaves me on the fence.

Nevertheless, as a skyscraper fan, it’s exciting to know that we will probably see new towers built in Detroit in the coming years. The CBD has plenty of room, frankly, with far too many surface parking lots crying out for something better.

Here’s what others are saying about the proposal.

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