DTE Energy is the latest corporate player looking to get into downtown Detroit revitalization, albeit on a much smaller scale than Dan Gilbert or Mike Ilitch.
The energy company recently purchased two properties near its headquarters on Third Street near Bagley on the west side of downtown: a long-abandoned, art deco building that formerly housed the Salvation Army and a triangular, mostly empty lot across the street from the Grand Army of the Republic Building, which is undergoing a closely watched renovation.
Because development plans are in "very early" stages, DTE Energy spokeswoman Randi Berris said not too much is set in stone for the future of the properties.
But, she said, DTE is hoping to be a "catalyst for change" in the area by renovating the Salvation Army building and turning the lot into a park. If the company has its way, the old Salvation Army building could become a restaurant or an office space, and combined with the soon-to-be renovated GAR building, the new park will become a focal point of the neighborhood.
"Our plan is a three-part: Stabilize the neighborhood, then improve it, and finally, transform it," she said.
Stabilizing the neighborhood, Berris said, involves working with Detroit police to make the area secure with regular patrols and removing graffiti in the area.
Improving the area means coming up with and implementing a plan for both sites.
"Obviously, it takes more than two projects to revitalize an entire neighborhood, but that would certainly be a significant step in improving the neighborhood," Berris said.
The Salvation Army building, despite being out of use for years, is in remarkably good shape architecturally, Berris said. She said DTE is hoping to work with private developers to transform the building into a restaurant or bar, as one early plan has it, or to turn it into a building with office space and lower-level retail.
"It's all on the table," she said. "We just bought the building, so now we'll figure out what to do with it."
Meanwhile, the triangular lot across from the GAR building will be turned into a park that could give employees of DTE and Mindfield Detroit, which is renovating and will be moving into the GAR building, a place to relax. Two small buildings on the site will be demolished.
"It would be kind of directly between DTE's headquarters and Mindfield, so it's our hope that our employees would use the space to congregate there, and maybe we would have concerts in the park," Berris said. "It would be kind of like what they do at Campus Martius, but just on a smaller scale."
As Gilbert's plans for a revitalized downtown and Ilitch's plans for a new Detroit entertainment district come to fruition over the next several years, DTE is hoping its much smaller project will have a big impact on its neighborhood.
"it's important for us to develop our surrounding neighborhood and to work with our neighbors in the community to be a part of this bigger revitalization effort," Berris said. "We want to lead by example. It's clear that businesses are on board when it comes to Detroit's revitalization, and DTE is very much a part of that."
DTE did not disclose how much the properties cost.