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Northland City Center seeks to revamp old mall into massive project, honor Hudson's heritage

Posted at 5:43 AM, Oct 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-07 06:59:29-04

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ-TV) — Thursday, Oct. 7 marks the official groundbreaking ceremony for phase one of a major mixed-use redevelopment project in the heart of Southfield.

Northland City Center seeks to re-imagine history to meet modern needs; revamping the old Northland Shopping Center into a mixed-use retail, residential, and office development just off of Northwestern Highway.

7 Action News took a tour of the site last week, where crews are still busy clearing debris and remnants from the old shopping center, which closed in 2015 after losing its last major anchor store, Macy's.

In July, after che City of Southfield's sale of the nearly 100-acre property to Contour Companies of Bloomfield Hills was finalized, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation granted $26 million in Brownfield tax credits to clean up the site.

Why the Northland site?

Aside from its prime location and history for the City of Southfield, one of the many attractive qualities of the site was the ready-made parking garage in the basement. It was used as storage for the old shopping center and can fit up to 1,000 cars.

The size of the site was also attractive and makes for one of the larger redevelopment undertakings in the state. In total, there will be 15 buildings plus a park on the site that will be completed over the next five years or so.

Historic photo of the the old Northland Shopping Center. Courtesy: Contour Companies

Total capital investment estimates are around $402 million, according to the City of Southfield, which said that money will support the creation of around 500 jobs.

A nod to Northland's history

Phase one of its second act will include restoration of the shopping center to have open-air retail space and two mixed-use apartment buildings where an auto center once stood.

“We want to make it future and past, all wrapped into one," said Contour's chief architect for the project, Bruce Kopytek. His vision includes a nod to the shopping center's heyday when Hudson's was the center landmark of the space.

The Northland Shopping Center opened in 1954.

Historic photo of the old Northland Shopping Center. Courtesy: Contour Companies

“There’s an homage to the Hudson’s there in terms of that building and we’re going to turn that into a marketplace with food, entertainment," Kopytek said. "It may have loft condos on the top, we may even invigorate the roof of it so there are activities on the roof.” 

Kopytek, who writes about the history of department stores in addition to working as an architect, has a deep personal connection to Hudson's and what it represents; he grew in Detroit and remembers the splendor and excitement the 15-story department store brought him as a kid.

Future rendering of Hudson's City Market. Courtesy: Contour Companies

“When everything suburbanized what used to be the one big Hudson’s store that had everything, they moved out and built much smaller stores where they had to create duplicates of what they could carry all over town," he said. “I think it lost its uniqueness.”

To celebrate the Hudson's heritage at the new Northland City Center, Kopytek said there will be a large "Hudson's City Market" sign that will accompany the characteristic red brick so many associate with the name.

Mall redevelopment goals are changing

“There definitely is a trend," said COO and Director of Brokerage for the Farbman Group, Michael Kalil. He's speaking about the changing approach to mall redevelopment in general.

These giant commercial spaces, or graveyards in some cases, are no longer havens for just more retail in separate structures. We're seeing more re-purposing in the form of mixed-used business, retail, and residential spaces. Not to mention the growing demand for industrial space.

“Perhaps redevelopment of one of the boxes, whether it’s used for storage, industrial, call center," Kalil said. “Look at all the fulfillment centers they’re building just in southeast Michigan. Whether it’s Pontiac, Detroit, there in Romulus.” 

The demand for more industrial space is spelled out in the numbers in metro Detroit's third quarter market report. Office vacancies rose in the third quarter, while the vacancies for bulk warehouse space dropped and the vacancy rate is now under 1%. That demand, experts say, is driving industrial construction in our area.

Kalil was recently the leasing agent for a regional mall near Cleveland, just acquired by Amazon for a fulfillment center.

The rich nostalgia of regional malls

Many will find it bittersweet to say goodbye to the malls of yesterday that for so many of us, served as the backdrop of our youth.

“It was great. You’d go there, hang out with your friends, sit at the food court," said Elizabeth Wohlfeil of Westland. We caught up with her outside the Westland Shopping Center, where she admitted she was only visiting for the Verizon store; she had to pay a phone bill.

The nostalgia of the mall experience is something many developers want to maintain in some way, facing hurdles from COVID and people's changing shopping habits.

“I online shop a lot," Wohlfeil said.

What about the future of other metro Detroit malls?

The Eastland Mall in Harper Woods is slated to close in January to be demolished in favor of warehouse and industrial space.

And the former Summit Place Mall in Waterford, which was the Pontiac Mall before that, is now ripe for redevelopment. The now empty site is being touted by its developer as the Oakland County Business Center, a potential home for mixed-use office or industrial space.

“There’s just not nearly as many people. And really the selection in the stores for most of the malls is just not there to what it was," said Michael Richards of Plymouth.

The father of two said he still enjoys regularly visiting local malls, especially during the winter months and the holidays. We caught up with him outside Laurel Park Place in Livonia. For Richards, having a place he can take his kids to see multiple attractions all in the same area is a worthwhile convenience.

“We like going inside, we like walking around actually and taking a look at things," he said.

Convenience is something Contour Companies wants to keep intact and even further for its upcoming residential tenants.

“Our concept was always if somebody chose to live here, maybe you get home from work and say I don’t feel cooking or I need to get some groceries from a little market. Just take the elevator down, walk to the next building over and there it is," Kopytek said.