What does a 1940s gas station have in common with a pharmacy? Midtown.
After staring across the street at a vacant 1940s-era gas station, the folks at the Detroit Central City Community Mental Health Group decided to take on a challenge.
The blighted building, at 3169 Woodward Ave., just south of Peterboro Street, looked like every bit of an old, vacant gas station. Complete with a beat up parking lot, crumbling facade and dirty look to it, the building was in dire need of an upgrade.
So Detroit Central City bought the gas station, but found out that in order to redevelop the gas station, they had to find something else that looks like a gas station.
With a combination of historic and brownfield tax credits and a grant from the Hudson-Webber Foundation, Northville-based Leitrim Corp. is developing the building for Detroit Central City with the Detroit-based pharmacy chain PharMor Pharmacy set up as tenant.
For Detroit Central City, a nonprofit which provides mental health, substance abuse, housing and support services, it was a matter of cleaning up an eyesore. And they couldn't ignore it either, since the old gas station is across the street from their headquarters.
Taking on the design was Fusco, Shaffer & Pappas Inc., the Farmington Hills-based architecture firm that specializes in historic redevelopment.
But there was a catch.
Rather than build the multi-story building that Detroit Central City had in mind, they had to make it look like it used to.
And that means even though it is set to be a pharmacy in January, it needs to look like a gas station.
"It will probably be the only pharmacy in Michigan that looks like a 1940s gas station," Detroit Central City CEO Irva Faber-Bermudez wrote about the project.
It's part of the new reality of real estate development in Detroit. When a project can't be fully funded by private money, that project has to live with the strings that come with public money.
In particular, the historic tax credits require that in order to take the grant, the property needs to be redeveloped in the spirit of the original building, even if the use is completely different.
Developer Fred Beal explained this concept to me last month when I asked if he was going to build any loft-style elements into the apartments in the Broderick Tower project on Grand Circus Park.
He told me he'd love to, but he couldn't.
The Broderick Tower is also using historic tax credit money, and the project is required to keep to the spirit of the interior build-out.
The only problem is that it was an office building.
So while they are allowed to put kitchens in, which weren't in the office building, the build-out needs to have a full finish with no exposed duct work, electrical wires, pipes, etc.
It's still a cool apartment building. And I'm sure the PharMor will be a cool pharmacy as well.
Hopefully there's not a bell that dings when you drive into the parking lot, or a pharmacist that's required to come out and check the oil in your engine while you wait for some pills.