Your Update on 4 Long-Touted Detroit Developments

We look at the status of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, Packard Plant restoration, Hudson’s site, and Michigan Central Station. Plus, six more projects to keep your eye on.

Long-touted Detroit developments are (mostly) expecting big advances 2021. And then there’s the Packard Plant. Here’s an update on where these big projects stand in the city.

Gordie Howe International Bridge

detroit developments - gordie howe international bridge
Bridge photograph courtesy of Gordie Howe International Bridge project

Developer: Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority

Vision: A modern crossing to Canada that spans 1.5 miles over the Detroit River, flanked by two of the largest ports of entry in North America. 

Estimated Cost: $4.4 billion

Estimated Completion: 2024

Background: The need to supplement the aging Ambassador Bridge, built in 1929, became apparent at least 20 years ago. Its four lanes were no longer enough for future traffic projections, and design limitations prevented hazardous
materials from being trucked across. A decade-plus of approval seeking in two countries culminated in a plan to build a bridge with six lanes and a pedestrian path that would rank as one of the top five longest in North America. Final green lights were granted in 2014, and construction began in 2018.

2020 News: Crews cleared eight smaller bridges crossing over I-75 in preparation for linking the interstate to the American port of entry near Fort Wayne. Concrete pours to secure the future 722-foot-tall towers began in the fall. Preparations for the land allotted to the Canadian port of entry are almost completed. COVID delays have been minimal. Officials note that 70 percent of all construction is not scheduled to begin until this year. Developers dispersed grants to nine nearby charities, part of their plan to distribute about $390,000 to community groups by 2024. Finally, the death of Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun in July could help the project move along as the billionaire was a major source of opposition.

Packard Plant Restoration

detroit developments - packard plant
Packard Plant: IStock

Developer: Fernando Palazuelo

Vision: Mixed-use development, with the specifics being a bit of a moving target, at points including apartments, senior housing, storefronts, offices, light industrial, art galleries, a brewery, a nightclub, and a go-kart track.

Estimated Cost: $350 million

Estimated Completion: Abandoned

Background: Once the site of the most modern automobile manufacturing facility in the world, the 3.2 million-square-foot assembly plant has sat abandoned at the east edge of downtown since 1958. Peruvian businessman Palazuelo bought the property at a 2013 tax foreclosure auction after the first- and second-place bidders could not finance their pledges. Palazuelo was quick to make big promises, but restoration was slow and suffered a permanent setback two years ago when the building’s well-known brick bridge collapsed onto East Grand Boulevard. 

2020 News: In October, Palazuelo finally bowed to what many suspected was inevitable, acknowledging that his vision wasn’t going to happen. Saddled with back taxes (which Palazuelo pledged to pay by the end of 2020 or risk foreclosure), he enlisted a new brokerage firm to hunt for industrial tenants. Renovations are now slated to begin later this year, with 2022 penciled in as the earliest anticipated occupancy date. Much of the property is now expected to be razed and replaced with modern industrial facilities, though it’s hoped that the former administrative building and iconic water tower can be spared. 

Hudson’s site

detroit developments - hudson site
Hudson’s Site courtesy of Bedrock Detroit

Developer: Dan Gilbert

Vision: Replace the former site of the world’s tallest department store with a worthy successor in the form of a dynamic, mixed-use tower-and-block complex. 

Estimated Cost: $909 million

Estimated Completion: 2024

Background: The city has waited for a suitable replacement at 1206 Woodward Avenue ever since the remains of Hudson’s were dynamited in 1998. Quicken Loans’ Gilbert secured rights to the space in 2007, though it would be another decade before his development company, Bedrock Detroit, unveiled plans for a new skyscraper. The project officially kicked off at a December 2017 bulldozing ceremony. 

2020 News: COVID and construction hurdles tripped up the timeline. Navigating chunks of the old foundation buried underground proved a time-sucking chore. Then, the pandemic halted construction for more than 40 days at a crucial point just as cranes arrived in early April. These and other delays pushed the completion date back at least two years. The design itself also underwent a rethink. Gilbert once boasted the tower would climb more than 900 feet to become Michigan’s tallest. However, a March revision cut its height down to 680 feet, second to the Renaissance Center. Other updated specs for the tower and an adjacent squat block building include 150 residential units, a 200-plus-room hotel, 400,000 square feet of office space, a 1,200-person event space, and 18,000 square feet carved out for retail. One key detail still to come: a name for the property. 

Michigan Central Project

detroit developments - michigan central
Michigan Central courtesy of Ford

Developer: Ford Motor Co.

Vision: Revive the iconic former train station
and return Detroit to the cutting edge of automotive innovation. 

Estimated Cost: $740 million

Estimated Completion: 2023

Background: Michigan Central Station’s closure 32 years ago left Detroit with yet another ghost of its grand past to haunt its present. What to do with the huge Beaux Arts structure was a hot topic throughout the 2000s. Both demolition and housing the Detroit Police Department headquarters were debated, but neither happened and the building was used mostly as a location for Hollywood filming. Its future evolved overnight in 2018 when Ford Motor Co. chose the site as the nerve center for its ambitious “mobility” push. 

2020 News: A November update revealed more of Ford’s plans, which go beyond just Michigan Central Station. They include a four-building, 1.3 million-square-foot campus. Five thousand employees are expected to work on-site, half belonging to Ford and half to other companies. Many will strive to perfect the self-driving car, making use of a repurposed elevated platform that will, if all goes according to plan, attach to an autonomous-car lane stretching to Ann Arbor. Yet the campus won’t be a walled-off, top-secret test site. The public will be invited to explore new bike paths and walking trails that will crisscross Corktown, and blueprints include space for cafés and retailers in a bid to amp up the surrounding density. Ford also shed some nearby land to outside entities to build 150 homes.

Beyond the Big Four …

The quartet above are the projects that grab the big headlines. Here are six more projects to keep your eye on.
detroit developments - ralph c wilson jr centennial park
A rendering of how transformative the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park will be to the downtown Detroit landscape. // Courtesy of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates 

Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park: Formerly known as the West Riverfront Park, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy renamed it for the late Michigan business titan whose foundation kicked in $40 million. The  22-acre rec area is on pace to open in 2023 with a network of trails to connect Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle.

Detroit Center of Innovation: A $300 million, 190,000-square-foot research and education facility built for the University of Michigan  is due to break ground in Greektown this year, the anchor of what is envisioned as a 14-acre array. 

Wayne County Criminal Justice Complex: A new five-building, $600 million courthouse-jail complex located east of I-75 is slated to be completed by next year. Dan Gilbert’s firm is building the project in exchange for acquiring the downtown property where the earlier new jail project was expected to rise.

Silverdome Site: Amazon’s $230 million warehouse in Pontiac should be done by early this year. 

Motown Museum Expansion: A $50 million expansion has begun with a 50,000-square-foot building that was due to open in 2020 but was delayed by the pandemic.

The Mid: Two mixed-use skyscrapers have been scaled back amid cost overruns. Future hazy.