Flickers of Hope

Like lonely hearts seeking love, five downtown Detroit buildings may soon flash a more engaging smile in hopes of attracting suitors.
Illustration by James Yang

A fledgling project designed to highlight several vacant city–owned buildings could illuminate dark windows, brightening hopes along with the city skyline. Targeted are structures on Woodward and two others, including the historic Harmonie Club building, says Detroit Economic Growth Corp. (DEGC) Vice President of Project Management Malik Goodwin.

The DEGC plan calls for installing solar-powered lighting and façade improvements. “I think it’s important to do what we can to increase the perception of safety, and to highlight the buildings to entrepreneurs [seeking] business space,” Goodwin says.

McIntosh Poris Associates in Birmingham has been selected to implement the idea. “It’s not just about putting lights in; it’s about adding to the streetscape at night,” says architect Michael Poris, McIntosh Poris co-founder. Likening the plan to designing a film set, Poris says the buildings “don’t necessarily have to be used, but let’s bring the street life back.” The project could include selling surplus energy generated by alternative sources back to the utility companies to help subsidize costs. “We’re just trying to be innovative in the way that we deal with vacant structures downtown — in a way that’s more sustainable,” Goodwin says.

Being sustainable includes keeping what we have, Poris says. “There’s an authenticity and there are economic benefits to keeping the buildings,” he says. “A lot of these buildings would cost a lot to replicate. Without them, Detroit is not Detroit anymore.”

The improvements should be visible by year’s end, Goodwin says. He says a true success would extend beyond the five improved buildings. He hopes the project will inspire other area property owners to implement similar tactics.