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Auctioning Detroit’s historic buildings

June 22, 2015

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The golden tower of the Fisher Building. Photo by MGSmith on Flickr

Two of Detroit’s best known buildings are being auctioned this week. The Fisher Building and the Albert Kahn Building are linchpins of the city’s New Center district north of downtown. They sit across from another Detroit landmark, the original General Motors Building, whose lobby was recreated for Mad Men.

The bidding on the buildings starts at $3.5 million, according to the Detroit News. Their iconic status has drawn national attention to the auction, like this story on NPR.

The buildings are being sold online by Auction.com, and the News says more than 200 potential bidders have checked out the properties.

The Fisher Building is the better known of the pair. It was built in 1928, and features a golden tower that can be seen across the Detroit skyline. Inside, the 30-story building boasts the Fisher Theater, a site for pre-Broadway tryouts and Broadway touring companies, and features an elaborate Art Deco design.

It has always been a prestigious address, and is 82 percent occupied. By contrast,  the eight-story Kahn Building, named for the famed architect, is only half occupied. Both, however, are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Compared with historic buildings in New York, the starting price is a steal, says A.J. Weiner, the managing director for the real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle’s Detroit office. He told NPR the buildings probably would sell in the $20 million to $30 million range, but would command upwards of $500 million if they were set in Chicago or Manhattan.

Many people in Detroit are wondering if billionaire Dan Gilbert, the largest private real estate owner in the city, will snap up one or both of the buildings. Thus far, Gilbert has concentrated on buying properties downtown, but recently bought parking spaces near the two buildings.

The Fisher and Kahn Buildings also come with 2,000 parking spaces, designed at a time of Model Ts and jalopies. It can be a challenge for modern drivers to traverse the indoor pathways, but parking spaces are parking spaces.

The New Center District is adjacent to the new M1 light rail line that is being built up Woodward Avenue, stretching from downtown through the popular Midtown district. That’s led to hopes that the New Center area could be Detroit’s next hot commercial neighborhood.

For story ideas, see which properties in your city are listed on Auction.com. You might talk to commercial real estate agents to find out whether auctions are common where you live, or whether real estate companies still handle major sales.


  • Micheline Maynard

    Micheline is a contributing columnist at the Washington Post concentrating on business and culture. She has written about flooding in Detroit, tainted water in Benton Harbor, nationwide shortages of restaurant staff, and vaccine hesitancy.

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