Eastern Market developer on track to open spaces for restaurants, creative businesses

New spaces in Eastern Market could become available for creative entrepreneurs in 2013 if all goes according to plan for Robert Heide, owner of the FD Lofts in Eastern Market.

Heide is working on a deal to buy a former Department of Public Works maintenance building from the city of Detroit for $150,000 and expects the deal to finalize in the first quarter of next year.

The building lies on a 5-acre site east of FD Lofts, at Erskine and Orleans streets. The plan is to turn the 184,000-square-foot building into a mixed-use development called New Central Yard that would include spaces for creative businesses, restaurants and retail storefronts.

There are already plans to put an indoor tilapia farm in the 26,000-square-foot easternmost portion of the building. Heide said the first task upon closing the deal would be to get that up and running for SHAR Foundation, the Detroit nonprofit that is working with an Ohio business to build the farm. (Crain’s Detroit Business subscribers can read about the farm here.)

The side of the building facing Erskine Street would have up to nine spaces for retail shops and restaurants, extending the pedestrian walkway that the restaurants Sala Thai and Roma Cafȁ;already face.

The remaining northwest portion of the building would contain spaces ranging from about 1,400 square feet to 4,400 square feet for designers, small food producers and other creative businesses. There is enough space to accommodate 10-12 tenants, but the plan is flexible and walls can be configured to meet needs, Heide said.

Heide’s rough estimate to renovate the property is $8 million. Once the tilapia farm work is well under way, he would move on to the other areas of the building. He is aiming to open those areas in early 2013.Heide is president of Urban Life Development LLC, the entity that owns the FD Lofts building, which houses photography, design and other creative businesses in finished loft spaces, as well as Sala Thai. Heide’s 1565 Erskine LLC would take ownership of New Central Yard.

“It will maintain the industrial authenticity of the building, but it’s not going to be rough space. It all will be quality work like what we do over here (at FD Lofts,)” Heide said.

His effort to make the project happen began in 2004 when the city put out a request for proposals for the site but ran into stops and starts in dealing with the Kwame Kilpatrick administration. Heide declined to elaborate but said the important point now is that Mayor Dave Bing’s administration supports the project.

“The Bing administration has been focused on completing the deal,” Heide said.

Heide has been working on buildings in Eastern Market since the 1980s, when he did the finishing work on the first lofts in that area to become available to renters in recent decades.

Roma Cafȁ; is on Erskine Street between Heide’s FD Lofts building and the property where New Central Yard would be. The restaurant is a last outpost on the street; east of Roma is where the empty warehouses and overgrown lots that characterize this part of Detroit’s east side begin.

Janet Sossi Belcoure owns the restaurant, touted as the city’s oldest, and has seen her share of development ideas for Detroit come and go.

“I’m always a little cautious when someone has big plans,” she said, while welcoming the idea of bringing more restaurants and variety to the street.

She said she is enthusiastic about the prospect of someone with Heide’s experience investing in Eastern Market but knows little about the project because he has not contacted her about it.”I wish Mr. Heide would communicate more with neighbors,” Sossi Belcoure said. “I’m excited with reservations: Show us what you’re going to do.”

Heide said he will begin making more details of the project public as it moves forward.

“We continue to work out the details of the planned development and expect to share them with the Eastern Market community in the first quarter of 2012,” Heide said.

Amy Gutz and Fotoula Lambros run a creative business that they moved to the Eastern Market area from Ferndale this past summer. It took six months to find a suitable place that wasn’t totally raw and whose ownership was known, said Gutz, director of sales for Fotoula Lambros Design LLC, the business that supports the work of fashion designer Lambros. Spaces that are suitable are hard to catch because they move quickly, she said.

“What’s difficult is finding space that’s ready,” Gutz said.

They live and work in the space they found, one floor of the building known as the Candy Loftson Gratiot Avenue. The space is about 1,500 square feet.

The two are not done looking, as they plan to move into a larger space to accommodate their Workroom retail idea, featured in the Hatch Detroit contest.(See updates on the ideas from that contest here.)

The Eastern Market area in particular is attractive because of the creative atmosphere it already has and because of the sense that it’s up-and-coming, Gutz said.

Nov. 30, 2011 | Crain’s Detroit Business