From the ashes of Hudson’s, finally a phoenix for Detroit?

The demolition of Detroit’s downtown Hudson’s store in 1998 left scars both physical and psychic upon the beleaguered city. The loss of what had been a landmark for generations of shoppers was part of the pain, but the empty lot that took its place was another. Prime real-estate on Woodward Avenue stood vacant year after year.

So it’s no surprise that when Matt Cullen, president and CEO of Detroit’s Rock Ventures, dropped news of the site’s redevelopment in the middle of a roof-raising keynote at the Detroit Policy Conference last week, people took notice.

Cullen said the parcel was in the first stages of its re-emergence, with an “international design competition” planned for a mixed-use development of retail and residential on the old site. Coming in the midst of Cullen’s parade of positive news for the once-moribund city core, it quickly became the big story of the conference.

Cullen laid a carpet of upbeat facts about the Downtown and Midtown areas of the city. Residential units are at 97 percent occupancy, with major corporations pushing strong initiatives to get more employees moving there. And 65 new businesses downtown have made the area the “innovation hub” of the region, he said.

With such central city landmarks as the Madison, First National, Chase and Dime buildings (the latter rechristened the Chrysler House) at near or full capacity, the need for a new project in such a valuable location is obvious, Cullen added, announcing the site plans.

The site was given a 15-year extension on its Renaissance Zone designation in 2011, according to a Detroit News story, making any businesses within exempt from a wide range of taxes.

Cullen’s upbeat mood was matched by the next speaker on the program, urban expert Richard Florida, who told conference attendees that “10 years ago, I wouldn’t have said (Detroit’s core rebirth) was possible.”

Florida touted cities, especially walkable, bike-able ones with dense urban centers, as necessary for the sort of “creative-class” employment that will move the 21st-century economy. He said 40 million Americans already have creative-class jobs, and that during the Great Recession, their unemployment rate never topped 5 percent.

Referring to author Thomas Friedman’s premise that “the world is flat” -- i.e., more susceptible to the economic pressures of globalization -- Florida objected to the idea that distance doesn’t matter anymore. There’s a creative energy that exists in cities, he said, and they must be preserved.

“And this city-suburb thing has to go away,” Florida said.

Staff Writer Nancy Nall Derringer has been a writer, editor and teacher in Metro Detroit for seven years, and was a co-founder and editor of, an early experiment in hyperlocal journalism. Before that, she worked for 20 years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she won numerous state and national awards for her work as a columnist for The News-Sentinel.

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Jeffrey Poling
Tue, 03/05/2013 - 9:29am
The only comment I can offer on the architecture is that hopefully it will be richly textured in brick and stone as opposed to cold, bleak glass and steel. My take on the project is in regard to its function. My concern is that there is little or nothing to do in the way of entertainment to draw people downtown during the day or to keep people downtown after work. On a trip to LA some years ago, my wife & I went to Gene Rayburn's Match Game which was very entertaining and we were lucky enough to get into Johnny Carson's show. At one time, Detroit had a TV talk show - Kelly And Company hosted by Frank Kelly and Marylyn Turner that was very popular. We have the talent for a revival of that show in Detroit's own Mitch Albom. Frank Beckmann also hosts a daily show. All we need is a place for them to perform in front of a live studio audience. Let the "New Hudson's" provide TV studios complete with auditoriums and marques for talk shows, comedy shows, show case Detroit's abundant musical talent. There is enough space on that city block for a building housing several auditoriums as well as retail shopping and living quarters. The central location is within easy walking distance of most office bldgs. Detroit needs people and people need a reason to come downtown and stay besides work.