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DETROIT-After a failed plan to bring lofts to the abandoned, 760,000-sf Argonaut office building Downtown, owner General Motors Corp. has agreed to donate the building to the College for Creative Studies, which is going to spend $145 million to renovate the 11-story building into college and primary school classrooms, as well as faculty offices. The college will expand its master’s degree offerings at the building, as well as bringing in a charter middle and high school through the Thompson Educational Foundation and Henry Ford Learning Institute. The building will also include 300 dorm rooms for the college, as well as a 500-car attached parking garage.

The building was constructed in 1927 for GM by famous local architect Albert Kahn, and has been the site of history for the automaker, serving as the home of the first automatic transmission, the Hydra-matic, and the famed headquarters for the famous car designer Harley Earl. The building was vacated when the company moved most of its operations out of the New Center area and into the Renaissance Center in 1997. “This is really the last building to be taken care of in the New Center,” says Eric Larson with Larson Realty Group, which is serving as development manager on the project. The project is expected to be complete by fall 2009.

He tells GlobeSt.com that the college is going to strip the inside of the historic building to bare walls so that it can be improved with modern hvac, technology and other equipment. “The bulk of the building will be the college and faculty offices, and the other 30% will be the Thompson school. A gymnasium will also be attached to the building and used by both the college and the school. It really is a unique idea to bring the college together with this charter school that’s going to be also concentrated on design,” Larson says.

The property will also have offices for non-profit groups, such as the college’s Community Arts Partnerships program, which serves about 3,000 Detroit youth annually, and two creative business accelerators that are part of Detroit Renaissance’s new creative economy initiative. The accelerators provide rental space and support services to help creative businesses become sustainable.

Larson says the addition of this type of redevelopment to a city in such need for resurrection as Detroit is a major event. “This is significant, Detroit needs a large project, bulk-type development. You’ve got a small college that’s been successful at growing its population to 1,300 students. Though the main campus is half a mile down Woodward Avenue, in the Cultural Center, development has a way of growing between two pockets of activity, maybe this project can help build a bridge between the two areas,” he says. Larson’s development team includes Jones Lang LaSalle and Preservation Development.

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