Battling Rust Belt decline with a startlingly modern design, a New York City-based developer and architect have unveiled plans this week for Cadillac Centre, a $150-million residential, retail, and entertainment complex in the heart of downtown Detroit.

Cadillac Centre
Cadillac Centre
Cadillac Centre
Images courtesy Northern Group Inc.

Cadillac Centre, designed by Anthony Caradonna, will feature two 24-story sculpted glass-and-steel apartment towers with 84 rental units, atop a 12-story base containing retail, cinemas, a health club and spa, restaurants, and 800 parking spaces. Cadillac Center will complete a circle of buildings around Campus Martius, Detroit's historic central square, where two other newer towers rise nearby.

Named after Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the French explorer who founded Detroit in 1701, the Cadillac Centre will feature two 24-story sculpted glass-and-steel apartment towers with 84 rental units, atop a 12-story base containing retail, cinemas, a health club and spa, restaurants, and 800 parking spaces. Cadillac Center will complete a circle of buildings around Campus Martius, Detroit’s historic central square, where two other newer towers rise nearby. It will rise on a site known as the Monroe Block, a two-acre parcel just east of Woodward Avenue and Detroit’s central Campus Martius Park. A row of low-rise commercial buildings had occupied the site since the 1860s but were demolished in 1990. The block became a parking lot and, for many, symbolized the spreading vacancy Detroit suffered during its long economic and social decline.

The Northern Group, a New York-based real estate company that will develop Cadillac Centre, already owns three office towers downtown. “We believe in the future of Detroit,” says Northern Group principal Alex Dembitzer, adding that the city is making a comeback and his firm wants to be part of it.

The architect is Anthony Caradonna, a professor at Pratt Institute whose firm, OPUS Architecture and Design Studio, operates in both New York and Rome. His design features two asymmetrically rounded towers tapering from top to bottom, faced with transparent glass that has a shimmering quality derived from solar fibers embedded within the glazing. The upper portions of the towers, cantilevering from their base and set at angles to each other, rise from either end of the 12-story podium, which is partly faced with a greenish glass. Cadillac Centre will be among the most daring architectural works built in Detroit since the John Portman-designed Renaissance Center opened in the mid-1970s.

Caradonna says he took inspiration both from landmark urban destinations, such as Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, and local icons including the Renaissance Center. “Detroit had these amazing tall buildings with these amazingly beautifully designed and ornamented and three-dimensionally vibrant interior spaces,” he says. “It’s really about raising this piece that fits into this really important puzzle of downtown, linking the spaces around it.”

Reaction to the design in the local media and on blogs has been mixed. Admirers praise the project for delivering a creative jolt to downtown Detroit’s traditional architecture. Others find it jarring. Either way, there’s no question that the project has stirred significant interest in a town still trying to shake off its Rust Belt reputation.

Dembitzer says that project financing is lined up, and the schedule calls for breaking ground in fall 2009, with completion targeted for late 2011.

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