Detroit — The city will get its first modern observation deck when work is complete on the Hudson’s site project at some point beyond 2020.
The deck will crown the 800-foot tower of the yet unnamed $1 billion development at Woodward and Gratiot — what will be Detroit’s tallest building.
“Observation decks are common in major American cities, and during the design process for Hudson’s, it came up that Detroit doesn’t currently have a high vantage point downtown that the public can enjoy,” said Jamie Witherspoon, director of architecture for Bedrock, which is developing the site. “Since the Hudson’s site is so iconic, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to add this point of interest.”
Bedrock officials say the deck could have multiple levels.
“There could possibly be multiple views or multiple floors,” Witherspoon said. “We haven’t ironed out all the details yet. It will be the tallest building in Michigan, so we hope it gives an active view and is a dynamic place that everyone can enjoy.”
Bedrock is working in collaboration with Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson and New York-based SHoP Architects on the project.
“The first step is to benchmark other observation decks around the country to learn best practices and determine which qualities could be applicable in Detroit,” Witherspoon said. “In the end we want this space to be a unique experience.”
For inspiration, the architecture team says it’s looking at the Willis Tower in Chicago, the Shard in London, New York’s One World Trade Center and Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center.
Witherspoon said it has yet to be determined if the observation deck will have features such as telescopes or glass floors, or if it will be enclosed, open air or both.
In renderings released of the Hudson’s site project, the observation deck has a glassy, overhung appearance. It’s to sit atop the planned 330 residential units in the tower. Initial renderings didn’t have an observation deck, but one emerged among the plans last fall when Bedrock announced the tower would go from 734 to 800 feet tall.
It has not yet been determined if there will be a fee to access the observation deck.
“We want it to be enjoyable and available to everyone, but we’re still working out the dynamics for that now, so it’s hard to say,” said Gabrielle Poshadlo, a spokeswoman for Bedrock.
Annu Chopra, a managing partner at New York-based Atalanta Advisors, has worked on plans for a number of observation decks, including ones in Chicago and Philadelphia.
Chopra said that there could be a profit to be made whether there is a fee to access the deck.
“The thing is oftentimes the top floor rents for premium as it is, but premium is not huge,” she said. “These markets have a ceiling on how much rent somebody is going to pay. To put even a free observation deck where you have a liquor license where people can buy beer and wine, and enjoy a sandwich or some fries and buy a T-shirt you very well might be able to get more revenue, more profit than you would as rent. I think it’s a very interesting use.”
Chopra said that decks often have additional points of interest, such as the glass floor in the Willis Tower in Chicago or the indoor ice rink in the 360 Chicago Observation Deck.
Two years ago, there were talks of restoring the observation deck at the 566-foot-tall Penobscot Building. Those plans have not yet come to fruition. Management for the iconic building did not return calls seeking comment.
More recently, the tallest views could be had from the space that formerly housed Coach Insignia restaurant in the GM Renaissance Center. People could view the city’s landscape from atop the 727-foot-tall building. The restaurant closed in early 2017, but Las Vegas chef Shawn McClain has partnered with Riverfront Holdings to develop a new restaurant there.
Jeanette Pierce, executive director of Detroit Experience Factory, said her group has given skyline tours in the Renaissance Center, but it will be nice to have access to a dedicated observation deck. Since its inception, the group has taken more than 95,000 people on tours throughout the city.
“To get a view from way up there, many people have not seen their own city from that height,” Pierce said. “It gives you a unique perspective.”
A live guide, a way for visitors to identify buildings and 360-degree views would be ideal, Pierce said.
“It adds the most benefit to be able to walk around, and it helps with the flow also,” she said.
Michael O’Callaghan, executive vice president and COO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, said skyline views draw visitors.
“If you have friends visiting you in Detroit and you’re going to come downtown, go to Campus Martius or go to the Renaissance Center,” he said. “If you have an opportunity to go there, it kind of rounds out the visit. I think what’s good is it’s another attraction in downtown Detroit. Another reason to be down here. That is good for all of us.”
Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.