Three groups are being interviewed for the task of redeveloping the publicly owned buildings in the run-down Capitol Park district of Detroit.
Among the plans is a mixed-use development with 225-250 units of affordable, high-end and senior housing paired with local and national retailers.
Surprising some real estate insiders are the well-known developers who submitted proposals but aren’t on the short list, including Westin Book Cadillac developer John Ferchill, who had teamed with Quicken Loans Inc. founder Dan Gilbert.
In an emailed comment, Gilbert did not signal any hard feelings.
“We welcome any and all investors who see the opportunities that exist in the city and who want to get in on the ground floor of what is becoming an exciting and dynamic urban core in the heart of downtown Detroit,” he said.
Making the cut is the developer behind the Broderick Tower, Detroit-based J.C. Beal Construction Inc., in a joint venture with Denver-based Tryba Architects. Also on the list, sources said, are the developers behind the Durant Hotel in Flint, Lansing-based Prater Development Ltd. and Lansing-based Karp and Associates LLC.
In an email to Crain’s, Richard Karp declined to comment. Kevin Prater did not respond.
One national developer is also on the short list, according to sources familiar with the process, but the name is not available.
“This process is a long and winding road, with a lot to consider,” said Bob Rossbach, a public relations consultant representing the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., one of the entities making the decision.
Finding a developer for Capitol Park is a process that started in 2009 as a group of government and nonprofit entities bought hree of 17 buildings in the courtyard area.
Once the site of Michigan’s Capitol building, the small courtyard has appealed to developers because it includes so many historic buildings in a cluster.
A request for proposals was issued in August, with a consortium including state government entities, the DEGC, Invest Detroit, the Downtown Detroit Partnership and developer David Di Rita paring the field down to three finalists. The three will be pared to one in the next 45 to 60 days, Rossbach said.
For David Tryba, principal with Tryba Architects, remaking the three buildings is the culmination of a long quest to design a transformational Detroit development.
Tryba’s firm has a specialty of redeveloping historic buildings in Denver, New York and Washington, D.C. and he has spent 25 years exploring Detroit for possible projects while in town to visit his wife’s family during holidays.
He has teamed with J.C. Beal President Fred Beal in creating Capitol Park Partners LLC and has proposed a plan for a retail and residential development that would go beyond three buildings.
“It’s a catalytic opportunity we see here that motivates us,” Tryba said. “This is a moment in time, with a new generation of Detroiters who want this deeply. We have the ability to connect the new renters, the workers of that generation.”
Their plan for Capitol Park includes developing the Farwell Building into smaller, less-expensive units, the 1145 Griswold building into slightly larger units and the former United Way Building into senior-oriented housing. It will also include a larger retail strategy with local and national companies.
The focus is how to make Capitol Park into a community, he said.
“This is more about building a part of the city than it is about any one particular building,” Tryba said.
Financing would be similar to other recent Detroit projects, mixing public and grant-based incentives with equity investors and a limited amount of bank financing.
Tryba wouldn’t comment on the others in the running.
Left off, in addition to Ferchill, is Detroit developer Eric Larson, who recently became non-executive president of Olympia Development, the real estate arm of Mike and Marian Ilitch’s businesses.
“We didn’t get a lot of feedback as to what they did or didn’t like,” said Larson, who was not working with the Ilitch family. “On the whole, this is a good process for the city, and I think it’s important to get a lot of groups involved with this opportunity.”
Other developers who attended the pre-bid meeting for the request for proposals are Bloomfield Hills-based A.F. Jonna Development, Livonia-based Schostak Bros. & Co. Inc., Chicago-based Habitat Co. and Houston-based Hines Interests L.P., according to the sign-in sheet posted on the DEGC website.
Representatives from Schostak, Habitat and Hines said the firms did not make proposals. A.F. Jonna manager Arkan Jonna did not respond to requests for comment.