Detroit’s blighted Fisher Body Plant 21 will be transformed into sprawling residential complex

Good Bones

Detroit’s blighted Fisher Body Plant 21 will be transformed into sprawling residential complex

Detroit's Fisher Body Plant 21 on Piquette Avenue. Built in 1919, the building has been abandoned for decades. (Patrickklida/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0)

Fisher Body Plant 21, a former automotive factory that today stands as one of Detroit’s most prominent crumbling eyesores, will be resuscitated as part of an ambitious $134 million redevelopment scheme to bring more than 400 mixed-income apartments along with retail and coworking space to the Medbury Park neighborhood near the city’s Midtown and New Center districts. Co-developers Greg Jackson of Jackson Asset Management and Richard Hosey of Hosey Development will lead the transformation of the industrial structure in what is reportedly the largest Black-helmed development project in Detroit history.

Joining the development team is local architecture firm McIntosh Poris Associates, which has been tapped to reimagine the six-story, 600,000-square-foot landmark at the southeast corner of Piquette and St. Antoine streets. As reported by The Detroit News, planned amenities include a 2-acre rooftop green space, fitness center, indoor lounge space, dog areas, and more A trio of three-story atriums each spanning the length of a city side street will be inserted into the existing structure to break up the vast floor plates.

rendering of an atrium in a warehouse-turned-housing complex
Atrium space in the revitalized 1919 Detroit factory building. (Courtesy McIntosh Poris Associates)

Construction work could kick off as early as 2023 on the so-called Fisher 21 Lofts project. The city’s sale of the derelict property, which it acquired in 2000 and re-addressed as 6051 Hastings Street before embarking on extensive environmental remediation work, is still pending approval from the Detroit City Council as well as other requisite approvals. The decaying, graffiti-clad building, located within the National Register of Historic Places-listed Piquette Avenue Industrial Historic District, has already been subject to “significant” structural testing and environmental reviews to ensure that it can be safely converted into an apartment complex per the Detroit Free Press. The full transformation of the 103-year-old factory building is slated for completion in 2025 provided that the requisite approvals are granted and further remediation work to remove lead and asbestos is completed on schedule.

Per project plans shared by the Detroit Free Press, 20 percent of the development’s 433 rental apartments, a mix of studios and one-and two-bedroom units, will be available to income-eligible residents at below-market rates. The Fisher 21 Lofts will also include 28,000 square feet of ground-level retail space and 15,000 square feet of dedicated co-working space. Tenant and visitor parking will be realized on two adjacent lots acquired by the development team at 991 and 666 Harper Street.

exterior rendering of a large adaptive reuse project
The sprawling Fisher Body Plant 21 anchors a larger historic district near Midtown Detroit. (Courtesy McIntosh Poris Associates)
rendering of a public space outside of a large building
The old Fisher Body Plant 21 was one of the first poured concrete buildings in Detroit. (Courtesy McIntosh Poris Associates)

Built in 1919 for auto body-maker giant Fisher Body (later a longtime division of General Motors), the old Fisher Body Plant 21 has been abandoned for nearly three decades and, in that time, has become emblematic of Detroit’s decline due in large part to its impossible-to-miss visibility from the nearby interchange of Interstates 94 and 75. (Detroit’s Cultural Center and the campus of Wayne State University are just on the other side of I-94.) Now, the long-forsaken building, which was used by GM up until the mid-1980s and later populated by a paint manufacturer before its total abandonment in 1993, will be reborn through adaptive reuse as a symbol of Detroit’s ongoing resurgence.

The massive building was designed by Smith, Hinchman & Grylls (now SmithGroup) although it is sometimes credited as a project of Albert Kahn, designer of the Fisher Building, a landmark art deco skyscraper in nearby New Center, and other buildings at the old Fisher Body complex along Piquette Street including Fisher Body Plant 23.

“For almost 30 years, Fisher Body 21 has loomed over the I-94 and I-75 interchange as an international poster child for blight and abandonment in our city,” local news outlet ClickOnDetroit relayed Detroit Mayor Duggan as saying at a plan-unveiling press conference held yesterday. “For much of that time, demolition seemed like the likely outcome because the idea of finding a developer willing to renovate and reuse it seemed impossible. But it’s a new day in Detroit, and we have a team of outstanding developers led by two Detroiters—Greg Jackson and Richard Hosey—who are going to transform this vacant eyesore from a source of blight to a source of beauty and opportunity, bringing new housing for Detroiters of all income levels.”

rendering of a large public roof deck
The development team has envisioned a large roof deck space. (Courtesy McIntosh Poris Associates)

“This transformative project will become a road map for repurposing industrial buildings around the city,” added Richard Hosey.

Although Duggan has mentioned the ongoing difficulty of securing a developer willing to breathe new life into Fisher Body Plant 2, there has been at least one plan in the past to do so, although that decidedly singular idea ultimately fizzled out. In 2014, Berlin-based nightlife impresario Dimitri Hegemann of Tresor fame introduced an audacious vision to transform the structure into a techno club-slash-cultural-hub-slash-hostel. Although Hegemann toured the building and expressed potential interest in buying it from the city, he ultimately shifted his attention to opening a similar nightlife destination that would have been located the sprawling and also-abandoned Packard Plant complex, which, as of last year, will not be revitalized as initially envisioned and instead likely be demolished to make way for industrial warehouses.