Capitol Park in downtown Detroit gets another shot in the arm Wednesday when SkyBar, on the first floor of the David Stott Building, celebrates its elaborate renovation with a relaunch party.
Patrons will see softly glowing Moroccan lamps hanging from the 19-foot ceiling, wall fabric and foot-long tassels on the back of upholstered banquettes. Those features conjure up a Marrakech-meets-the-Motor City sensibility, especially when d.j. Joe Vargas plays tunes such as “Nuclear Funk,” by Arttu, as he was on a recent night.
What customers might not notice, though, is a subtle but unusual design element: Much of the bar’s interior has been recycled from the old Free Press Building at W. Lafayette and Cass.
Emre Uralli, owner of SkyBar – and the Stott Building -- also owns the old Free Press. He reclaimed the oak flooring from the paper’s composing room and sheets of Italian marble that he found stashed in a storage space.
Uralli used the wood for the floor, stage and one of the bars in SkyBar. And he covered the main bar and numerous tables with the marble. Woodworking from the Free Press, including mahogany baseboards, also decorates the new SkyBar, and Uralli even found a way to use some of the electrical components and duct work from the paper’s former headquarters.
“I’m more of an artist – I love the building’s artistry,” said Uralli, a lawyer by trade who has become a real-estate developer.
“I asked myself, ‘How do I bring the building back artistically?’ This is an unbelievable building.”
Dan Austin, the creator of the HistoricDetroit.org website and an expert on local architecture, said he can’t think of any other building owners who have taken “spare parts” from one property for another.
Uralli said he is looking for a development partner for the Free Press, and hopes to transform the building into residences. Designed by Albert Kahn, the six-story structure – with a 14-story tower – served as the paper’s headquarters from 1925-98, when the Free Press moved down the street into the first two floors of The Detroit News building.
A News Factory
With the presses in the basement and reporters sharing the third floor with the composing room, the old Free Press was like a news factory: Information filtered into the building and newspapers came out of it. Until the mid-1970s, composing room workers cast type on massive linotype machines and made plates for the giant presses, all at a fast pace.
The oak boards Uralli took from the composing room floor were generally four inches thick, about 10 inches long and extremely hard.
“It’s like concrete, like it’s petrified” Uralli said. “We took it to a mill. They couldn’t believe it.”
The marble is Italian white, and it looks like vanilla ice cream drizzled lightly with chocolate syrup. At the Free Press, panels of marble lined the walls on many of the upper floors. Uralli said he found the marble sheets in storage on the 14th floor.
SkyBar has existed for almost two years, but Uralli and wife Lynn recently knocked down a wall to expand the space into a long-defunct candy shop and redecorated. Emre Uralli didn’t want to put a price on the re-do, but it clearly wasn’t cheap.
Lynn Uralli supervised the interior's new look. She studied fashion design and merchandising, but has long worked as a real-estate broker.
“My husband and I are obsessed with old buildings,” she said.
From Lauderrdale to G.P.
The Urallis are from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. They came to Detroit several years ago, they say, for the opportunity presented by its classic buildings at low prices. They live in Grosse Pointe.
Opened in 1929 at Griswold and State, the 38-story David Stott is a slender building of rose colored brick. Lynn Uralli said they are slowly renovating, and have leased five floors to a number of clients. Another lounge, also called SkyBar, has opened on the 33rd floor, offering cocktails and dramatic views of the city.
SkyBar on the first floor will offer a kitchen using locally grown products and a bar that includes Michigan craft beers, which are $3 during happy hour. The menu includes bacon confit sliders, braised lamb tacos and seared Ahi tuna.
SkyBar’s relaunch Wednesday comes just as Capitol Park across Griswold slowly comes alive with long-awaited development.
The park is a bit sterile, but has a big-city feel because it is ringed by a series of 100-year-old buildings in a variety of styles that mostly are five to 13 stories high. The David Stott towers over the park at its southeast corner.
The Urban Bean Co., a two-story coffee shop, opened in April in the park’s northwest corner. A Birmingham-based partnership earlier this month announced its purchase of the 12-story Griswold Building and plans to turn it into market-rate apartments. Lansing developer Richard Karp is renovating three buildings on the park, including the 98-year-old Farwell, which is also set to become apartments.
Creating an arts environment and staging special events in Capitol Park figures prominently in the long-term vision for downtown Dan Gilbert unveiled recently. The plan envisions closing down Shelby Street and erecting food stalls, benches and tables. Some activity is expected this summer.
The Archdiocese of Detroit announced it is selling its longtime headquarters on Washington Boulevard and will bring 185 employees to five leased floors of the 1212 Griswold building on Capitol Park that once housed the United Way.
There clearly is a buzz underway about Capitol Park. On Friday, Uralli was stopped by a patron who identified himself as a lawyer specializing in bankruptcy.
“I love this building,” he said of the Stott. “I love what you’ve done with it. Can I buy a floor?”