Residential Rx

Through renovation and preservation, the former Helen Newberry Nurses’ Home in Midtown is on the road to recovery
The Helen Newberry Nurses’ Home, at East Willis and John R, as it appeared circa 1920. It served as a residence for nurses and nurses-in-training at Grace Hospital. // Photograph courtesy of Zachary and Associates

The scaffolding is up, and the Monahan Construction Co. sign indicate that work is in progress.

By next spring, the 1898-vintage Helen Newberry Nurses’ Home, at East Willis and John R in Midtown, will be transformed into a spiffy, energy-efficient 28-unit apartment building.

Originally constructed as housing for nurses who worked at nearby Grace Hospital, the edifice, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was designed by Elijah E. Myers, who also built the capitol building in Lansing, as well as state capitols in Colorado and Texas. It was funded by, and named after, Helen Hardy Newberry. She was the widow of John Newberry, who made his fortune in the railroad business. He died in 1887; she followed in 1912.

At a kick-off event in early May, a crowd gathered under a tent adjacent to the Newberry building on a sunny morning to mark the start of its renovation. Speakers included Ernest Zachary, president of Zachary and Associates, a Detroit-based firm specializing in economic development and financing consultation; David Manardo, corporate vice president for facility engineering and construction for the Detroit Medical Center; Susan Mosey, president of the University Cultural Center Association (UCCA); and Barbara Chiapella, from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). All of them stressed the value of teamwork in neighborhood revitalization and historic preservation.

“I teach a class in economic development at U-D Mercy, and we talk about the importance of team building to get results,” Zachary said at the event. “But here’s an example of how it works in practice. Without the cooperation of the DMC, the City of Detroit, the UCCA … our legal team and others, this couldn’t have been done.

Both Mosey and Zachary mentioned federal and state historic tax credits, as well as brownfield credits, as enticing factors in preserving the Newberry and other Midtown structures. The credits were bought by Comerica Bank.

Chiapella noted that HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan’s vision stresses revitalization of city neighborhoods. “He wants to put the UD [urban development] back in HUD,” she said. “He’s put out a road map on how HUD should engage with its partners. He’s committed to urban development, of which preservation is a big part.”

Mosey said she believes the Newberry is the only building still standing in Detroit that was designed by Myers. “That’s another reason why this is historically a very important project,” she said.

Zachary said rents would be about $1.30 a square foot, with units averaging around 800 square feet. “We’ll have geothermal in this building, and the energy bills will be as low as they can be,” he said. “In a year from now, we’ll have a great building that we can all be proud of for another 100 years.”

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