DETROIT-Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano announced today that the county plans to buy the 40-story Guardian building, an adjacent four-story office building at 511 Woodward and a nine-story parking garage for $33.5 million. The county plans to vacate its current main headquarters at the Old Wayne County building, when the lease is up in October, because Ficano says the county is paying too much in rent to owners Old Wayne County Building LP.

The Wayne County Commission still must approve the purchase. Financing would be accomplished through bonding, said county officials in a statement. “These acquisitions will enable us to consolidate offices in a state-of-the-art office building. Our taxpayers will become owners of assets instead of paying millions of dollars in rent each year,” Ficano said in the statement. “The Guardian building has a positive cash flow.”

The county is paying $14.5 million for the Guardian Building, the 30,000-sf office building for $2 million and the parking garage for $17 million. The Guardian building was 50% vacant, with tenants such as SmithGroup, Wade Trim, LaSalle Bank and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., and the move of county employees into the building will put it at 100% occupied.

The Sterling Group, which owns the Guardian building in a partnership with a New York City-based company, is also a tenant. “We have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to bring the Guardian building back to life,” said Danny Samson of Sterling in the statement. The building was only 6% occupied when Sterling bought it in 2003, but Samson said millions in renovations.

It’s not clear how the county will manage a commercial building, or if the building will qualify for incentives for a publicly-owned facility. It’s also not clear what will happen to the Old Wayne County building, which was used by 500 county employees. “We haven’t begun to explore marketing the property,” the spokesman tells today. “We’re continuing to pursue a meaningful dialog to reach an equitable, positive deal to either lease or sell the building to the county.”

County officials tell that they are paying more than $30 per sf on the lease of the 250,000-sf office building, possibly twice what the average class B office lease is at in the downtown. However, the owner’s spokesman told that a rent reduction has been offered.

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