It was once considered a great place to live; perfectly placed, perfectly suited for Detroit and all that it had to offer. The goals were clear, you wanted to live or know someone at the Lafayette Towers.
Musicians, doctors, lawyers, teachers, business people and factory workers made it home. People liked living there.
For many years, before trouble hit these Towers that were once a beacon of city living, it was considered a sweet moment of shared experience, one more pleasant part of being African American and being from Detroit.
Unfortunately things changed. Like the rest of a city faced with challenges, so went the Lafayette Towers. Foreclosure set in, there was a government takeover (HUD) and the Towers as Detroiters knew it – were no more.
Well today, the Lafayette Towers have a new owner, with a promise to restore it to glory. Nine months ago, Detroit-based business mogul Greg Jackson, the owner of the real estate firm Jackson Land Holding Co. LLC, bought the Towers from the city, for $5.8 million. An institution had been saved.
“My early recollection of this property — growing up in the city of Detroit, if you knew someone who lived in the Lafayette Towers — that was big time stuff,” said Jackson. “To just ride past and look at these buildings were a thrill within itself, because they were beautiful on the outside. And they were the epitome of luxury living in Detroit. One of the things that people would aspire to do…was to be able to live at the Lafayette Towers. That meant you had made it.”
The history of the Towers is an interesting one. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a major urban redevelopment project on Detroit’s east side created Lafayette Park, which was a planned community that is today one of the city’s most racially integrated and economically stable neighborhoods.
Lafayette Park was built on land that was once a densely populated working-class African-American neighborhood called Black Bottom, after the marshy bottoms at the source of the River Savoyard, which was buried when Detroit was settled. Classified as a “slum” in the 1940s, the neighborhood was razed and left vacant until the mid-1950s, when Chicago developer Herbert Greenwald made a successful proposal to develop the land with architect Mies van der Rohe, urban planner Ludwig Hilberseimer and landscape designer Alfred Caldwell.
Three high-rises, 186 ground-level townhouses and a large park were completed by the early 1960s. Both of the Towers were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
“What I hope to do to do is bring that type of stature back to the Towers,” said Jackson, who is also the CEO of the Prestige Automotive Group of auto dealerships. “Over the years…to a certain extent the former owners let the property run into disrepair. There were some deferred maintenance and some bad things that were happening on the property 15, 10, five years ago. The good news is that…all of that has changed.”
Presently, Jackson says the occupancy rate is 90 percent and there is no plan to displace current residents. Renovation will be done as occupants move.
Even so, Jackson has a very aggressive plan to have the Towers renovated and brought up to speed within the next 18 months. According to him, renovation cost will range anywhere from $6 to 10 million, a HUD condition of the sale. With that being said, there are currently no plans to raise rents.
“I think before we have an opportunity to raise rents, we have to improve the level of service,” said Jackson.
The Formidable Group currently manages the property. And Jackson says he is very pleased with the work they have been doing to help restore the property to respectability.
There will be a renovation of the Olympic size pool area that sits above the parking garage, the fitness centers in both Towers, the adding of personal trainers and a coffee shop.
“When I first found out that this property was available, I immediately became excited,” said Jackson. “I got excited because it was once one of Detroit’s premier residences. There were enough units that it could be managed by a professional management company. The good news is that the management company that is running the Towers today is very skilled at what they do. They manage large properties all over the country.”
The Formidable Group has improved the cleanliness of the grounds, cleaned up the structure and beefed up security. There are now three security guards at all times over a 24-hour period. They also have secured access to parking.
“They have provided an excellent level of base…in order for me to take over this property and take it to the next level…‘the New Lafayette Towers,’ that is our brand,” said Jackson. “As a consequence of Detroit as a city changing, our clientele is going to change. It’s a young professional crowd taking over the Lafayette Towers. And all of our changes are going to be geared towards that crowd. The space should be beautiful.”