Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Book Cadillac brings promise

Condo buyers say they will create work in downtown

Louis Aguilar / The Detroit News
May 27, 2008

The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit not only brings some old-fashioned style back to downtown when it opens, but many buyers of the hotel's upscale condos say they'll bring the city jobs, too.

At least half of the 55 buyers of the housing units at The Book own small- to midsize businesses and many are looking to set up shop or expand their business presence in Detroit, said Jon Grabowski, president of Esquire Properties, the company handling the sale of the Book Cadillac condominiums.

"It's one of the main motivations for many of them to relocate to the city," Grabowski said. Two other real estate brokers in the city said they are helping condo buyers from The Book find office and warehouse space for their companies, which include firms working in media, information technology and health care.

Many of the condo owners say it's too soon to talk publicly, since no deals are sealed yet, but the moves have the potential to create several hundred jobs in the city.

What's clear, though, is that The Book is drawing business executives who now see Detroit as a viable place to live and consider setting up shop here.

Take the Achatz Handmade Pie Co., a 15-year-old Chesterfield firm that sold $3.8 million in pies last year, distributed in suburban Detroit and through Chicago's Whole Foods, but with minimal presence in the city of Detroit.

"You really want to be in the state's major city and for us, it's always been kind of tough for us to figure out where and when to do that," said owner Dave Achatz.

But when his brother, Steven Achatz, moves to his 28th-floor Book Cadillac condo in October, they plan to open a store that will serve both pies and soup in downtown, possibly just down the street from The Book's location at Washington Boulevard and Michigan Avenue. The shop, which will also do some catering, will employ about 20 people full-time, Dave Achatz said.

Steven Achatz runs Achatz Soup from Scratzch in Casco. The 49-year-old bachelor lives in a former garage next to his soup shop.

"I was never sure if it was worth living in Detroit until I learned about The Book," he said. "Enough things are happening down here to give it a try."

Wes Wyatt, chairman and CEO of Cintron Beverage Group in Philadelphia who bought one of The Book's $1 million-plus penthouses, says he too thinks the Book was too good to pass up. Compared with Philadelphia real estate prices, Wyatt called the seven-figure price tag for his three-story penthouse "a bargain."

Once he moves in he may bring jobs to Detroit. "It's something that we're exploring, so it may be some marketing staff or some distribution," Wyatt said.

"I'm just a big fan of the city," added Wyatt, who has described Detroit's downtown revival as "raising the Titanic."

Cintron energy drink has sponsored events in town, including the Comerica Cityfest and a fashion show. "We have a great relationship with General Motors and Detroit is a good market for us," Wyatt said.

The 67 condo units are on the top eight floors of the 32-story hotel, and range from Wyatt's panoramic penthouse to more modest units priced in the mid-$200,000s.

Another penthouse buyer, Bob Bartlett, doesn't intend to move ReviewWorks, the insurance cost-containment firm he co-founded, from Farmington Hills to Detroit. "But so many people now want us to have meetings at The Book, I can see us benefiting the city," Bartlett said.

Bartlett lives in Birmingham, and when he mentioned that he was moving to Detroit, "A few people told me I was crazy," he said. "But as more details come out about The Book, some people now think I'm brilliant."

The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit opens Oct. 1 after a two-year, $200 million renovation.

When it was built in 1923, The Book was the tallest building in Detroit and the tallest hotel in the world. It was the city's premier hotel for decades, but closed in the 1980s and became a towering symbol of the city's blight.