A downtown Detroit shows an atrium under a glittering, glass skylight.
The skylight had been mostly hidden for years. The atrium came to light gradually as workers removing lead paint and asbestos tore out the floors that had filled the three-story rotunda.
“There was this sort of archaeological unveiling,” says Jamie Witherspoon, vice president of architecture for developer Bedrock Detroit.
The 38-story Book Tower was almost totally empty for more than a decade. A handful of small companies rented a few office spaces. The last retail tenant, Bookies Tavern, left in 2009. Three development teams had tried to renovate it before Bedrock finally bought the building in 2015.
The 229 new apartments at Book Tower officially opened in May. Rents rise to nearly $5,000 a month for a two-bedroom penthouse and start around $1,550 a month for a studio—premium prices for downtown Detroit.
But those high rents are not enough to pay to restore features like the skylight and the three-story rotunda by themselves. Book Tower also has 117 extended-stay hotel rooms and 52,000 square feet of retail and office space.
New restaurants on the ground level open to the atrium and the sidewalk. Another restaurant and event space fill the 14th floor rooftop.
The grand amenity spaces are enjoyed by the building’s many users. Couples who schedule weddings in the event spaces at Book Tower often take photos on the grand staircase. Office spaces on the second and third floors benefit from light and a view of the atrium. There’s also Bar Rotunda, an all-day cafe serving coffee, cocktails, and light bites, facing the atrium.
“There was a commitment early on to have this be a true mixed-use building,” says Witherspoon. “We’re trying to create an ecosystem beyond just the residents and the hotel guests, making sure that there’s folks working here, living here, playing here.”
Historic buildings also bring challenges. State and local officials were eager to help. The project received historic rehab tax credits and brownfield funding. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer came to the ribbon cutting.
It cost nearly $400 million to redevelop Book Tower. The developers installed about 2,500 new, insulated, double-pane windows. The new windows had to be carefully designed to look like the old, single-pane windows.
“Probably two years of our seven-year timeline were spent just cleaning, tuck-pointing, and repairing stone,” says Witherspoon. “There’s a ton of decorative sculpture work on the outside of the building—those had to be removed and repaired in many cases.”