Behind the Lens: This Vacant City Block Will Soon Be the Tallest Building in Michigan

Photos and musings from our photographer.
by | July 11, 2019 AT 3:03 PM
(David Kidd)

For most of the 20th century, this site in downtown Detroit was home to Hudson's department store -- at one time the city's premier retailer and one of the biggest shopping destinations in the world.

J.L. Hudson first opened a shop on this spot in 1891. Half a century and multiple expansions later, the department store had grown to become the second-largest on the planet -- and at 46 stories, the tallest. Fifty-one elevators served 17 floors of retail. Ten thousand meals a day were eaten by customers. There were more than 700 fitting rooms.

But the store’s fortunes rose and fell with the city’s. Hudson's closed its doors for good in 1983. The behemoth was imploded 15 years later.

Since then, for the past two decades, the entire city block sat empty. A number of stubby concrete piers poked up from an underground garage intended to anchor an 18-story building that never materialized. (This photo was snapped a few years ago.)

Now, the site is being reborn.

Dan Gilbert, the billionaire businessman whose real estate firm Bedrock now owns 100 properties in Detroit’s urban core, is redeveloping the Hudson block into a mixed-use project that will be the tallest building in Michigan when completed four years from now.

The Michigan Legislature last year approved $618 million in incentives to Bedrock for the Hudson site and three other development projects in the city -- the largest tax subsidy ever in the state. The incentives were part of a package that could top more than $1 billion for Bedrock projects. It came to be known as the "Gilbert Bills." 

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David Kidd | Design Director | dkidd@governing.com