University of Michigan plans $ 40 million renovation of Rackham building in Midtown Detroit

The University of Michigan is moving forward with a long-planned renovation of a 79-year-old Midtown Detroit building.

The Ann Arbor-based university plans to spend $ 40 million updating the Horace H. Rackham Education Memorial Building as a home base for several programs that will move from their current leased spaces in the city. It’s part of the university’s long-stated goal for growing its presence in Detroit – a presence that may eventually include a UM Detroit Center for Innovation built in collaboration with billionaire Stephen Ross.

UM’s board of regents approved the Rackham renovation project Thursday, according to a news release.

The Rackham, at Woodward Avenue and Farnsworth Street, needs a lot of work. The university, which began in Detroit in 1817, will fix major infrastructure issues across 70,000 square feet of the 121,000-square-foot building, replace its roof, increase energy efficiency, repair masonry on the outside of the building, fix plumbing and electrical issues and ultimately house nearly 500 students, the release said.

“This is an important project that will establish a new center of operations for the university’s wide-ranging work in partnership with the city and its residents,” President Mark Schlissel said in the release. “… I’m proud that our presence and work in the city continues to grow.”

The architects on the project are Troy-based Integrated Design Solutions and Detroit-based Quinn Evans Architects.

UM’s Detroit Center for research and outreach on Woodward Avenue will move there, as well as undergraduate admissions operations and educational programs in architecture and urban planning, engineering and environment and sustainability.

The university owned part of the Rackham building until buying the rest in 2018. It paid $ 5.1 million to the Rackham Engineering Foundation and the Engineering Society of Detroit. UM also acquired a parking structure from the Rackham Engineering Foundation.

At that time, Schlissel told Crain’s that UM planned to renovate the building and he saw it as an opportunity to give rise to a “more substantial” physical presence in Detroit. That was important as a recruitment tool, to connect with researchers and attract capital investment, Schlissel said then.

Now the Rackham work truly needed to move forward because UM had two leases ending, according to Thursday’s release.

“The renovation is being driven by the expiration of two UM leases for facilities in Detroit, with base rents of $ 500,000 and operating costs between $ 170,000 and $ 670,000 per year,” the release said. “The reduction of those lease expenses will provide a majority of the funding for the operating expenses after the building is renovated. Investment proceeds will fund the project.”

There’s another, bigger University of Michigan project that’s been proposed in Detroit.

In October 2019, New York City real estate mogul Ross and Detroit billionaire Dan Gilbert announced they would team up to build a $ 300 million UM graduate school campus at the site of Wayne County’s failed jail project on Gratiot Avenue just outside the downtown core.

But that idea fell apart, with Gilbert’s real estate company Bedrock LLC announcing in July this year that the jail site, which it owns, would no longer house the UM Center for Innovation. Ross said then in a statement that the site just didn’t work for the development. Since then he has been in talks with moving the center to the Ilitches’ District of Detroit, though it’s not known exactly where.

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