USA

The Parade Co. submits plan to buy long-vacant naval armory along Detroit River

After closing its doors more than a decade ago, the sprawling R. Thornton Brodhead Naval Armory on Jefferson Avenue along the Detroit River could finally have a buyer.

The Parade Co., which puts on the city’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade, has submitted a plan to buy the building and move its headquarters there, which would include restoring the front portion of the building, while demolishing the back half to make way for a new addition.

"Our goal is to bring life back to a landmark jewel which will serve as a new home and studio for The Parade Co.," Tony Michaels, president and CEO of The Parade Co., said Monday. "We are at the beginning of the important and necessary process in taking the appropriate steps, given the fact that the building has been unoccupied for 16 years."

The nearly $37 million proposal is scheduled to be discussed at the City of Detroit’s regularly scheduled Historic District Commission meeting Wednesday.

"We are respectful of this process, starting with the Historic District Commission this week and further steps with Detroit City Council upon approval," Michaels said in the statement.

The City of Detroit did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

If the plan is accepted, it would be the end of a long vacancy marked by vandalism and scrapping at the 90-year-old training facility for sailors and Marines. The building was also used as an event site for auto shows, and political and sporting events, where heavyweight champion Joe Louis once boxed, according to HistoricDetroit.org.

It also would end a nearly decade-long pursuit by the city for a buyer. The City of Detroit issued redevelopment requests in 2003, 2010 and in 2015. None of the RFP responses were approved.

This proposal could be different.

The Parade Co. said in its plan, posted on the city's website, that preliminary discussions for a fundraising campaign have been "extremely positive," and it intends to raise $37 million for the project. The company said it hopes to have fundraising completed by 2021, and would break ground that same year. Construction is expected to be completed two years following that date, the proposal said. 

The Parade Co. said it would want to increase its "family-oriented offerings," with tours and educational workshops, and also use it as an event space for weddings and other celebrations.

But to make the building work for the Parade Co.'s specific needs, which include storing floats, large heads and costumes, the company would build a 130,000-square-foot addition with high ceilings, according to the proposal.

The portion of the building that faces Jefferson Avenue would be restored, but the back half of the building, closer to the river, would be demolished, according to the proposal.

The building's height constraints and lack of continuity within floors make it unusable, the proposal says. The project's architect and general contractor are looking into ways to remove and relocate the historic elements in this portion of the building, the proposal says.

Home to murals and carvings

The armory is home to Great Depression-era murals, plaster carvings and extensive wood carvings, according to HistoricDetroit.org. Some of those murals have been severely damaged, according to the proposal, which said "deferred maintenance, vacancy and vandalism have significantly deteriorated the infrastructure, the finishes, and the artwork of the historic elements." 

Soon, nothing could remain of the interior and of the woodwork and murals in the back part of the building without intervention, the proposal said.

The proposal began circulating on Twitter, drawing mixed responses, with some users saying they're happy to hear the building will no longer remain vacant, while others saying they wish the back portion wasn't being demolished.

The full proposal can be found here.

Contact Adrienne Roberts: amroberts@freepress.com.

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