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DDP selects Toronto-based firm to modernize Capitol Park district

April 26, 2017

The Downtown Detroit Partnership selected architecture firm Public Work to lead a Capitol Park Historic District redesign project this fall.

Capitol Park District is comprised of a park and numerous buildings designed by renowned architects such as Albert Kahn (the Griswold Building) and John Donaldson (the David Stott Building). The district, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, was a foundation of growth for Detroit and the state of Michigan, being the first home of the state's capitol building and first city high school. The area also served as a safe zone in antebellum America for runaway slaves on the underground railroad en route to freedom in Canada.

Public Work, based in Toronto, was selected out of four finalists in an October request for proposals to modernize the historic district bounded by Clifford Street, Woodward and Michigan avenues, and Washington Boulevard. Other finalists included SWA Group of California; Interboro Partners of New York, which teamed with SmithGroupJJR of Detroit; and the office of James Burnett of California, which worked with Hamilton Anderson Associates of Detroit.

DDP CEO Eric Larson said the area was last renovated 12 years ago and the new revamp is necessary to accommodate the emerging resident, visitor and business base while encompassing the direction that the neighborhood is going.

Larson credits a diverse group of owners, developers and business groups for the area's resurgence. "The park itself needs to embrace that aspect of where the city is going as much as it does the history that it represents," he said. "We don't want to continue to reinvest and reinvent these public spaces every decade. We want to think about the capital dollars that go into this and create a base of amenities that can be flexible and built upon."

A new pet boutique opened in the area Friday, which moved from its original location in Grosse Pointe to The Albert building on Griswold Street.

"Every building and every lot either has already been redeveloped and occupied, or is in the process of being redeveloped," Larson said. "Richard Karp (principal of Karp and Associates) and his team framed the park, Lear Corp. opened an office in the area, and the DIME school of music. Bedrock is finishing work on a micro loft and the last standing synagogue in Detroit is there. It's really important to continue to embrace ... the diversity that comes in religious and various demographic forms."

The redesign project will be funded by the DDP through private funds for an undisclosed cost. No public funds will be used on the project. DDP will announce a series of public discourses in the spring to receive community input before a plan is finalized.

"One of the tricks with designing these public spaces is recognizing the four seasons," Larson said. "Then you have to think a little harder to make it an inviting space even with inclement weather."

Public Work focuses on projects that will revive and transform spaces suitable for contemporary city life, the firm's co-founders and principals Marc Ryan and Adam Nicklin said in a statement.

"We see the resurgence of Capitol Park as an opportunity to create a meaningful dialogue with the many layers of the site's history, while projecting a bold future for this unique place," they said. "We are thrilled to be part of an initiative that will prioritize the cultivation of life in the public realm as part of the larger urban transformations taking place in Detroit."

DDP plans for the redevelopment to begin this fall and to be completed in spring 2018.

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