New timeline set for former school administration building redevelopment

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 26, 2022

 The former Grosse Pointe Public School System administration building at 389 St. Clair Ave. in Grosse Pointe City has a new developer who plans to convert the offices and classrooms into high-end apartments.

The former Grosse Pointe Public School System administration building at 389 St. Clair Ave. in Grosse Pointe City has a new developer who plans to convert the offices and classrooms into high-end apartments.

File photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE CITY — The former Grosse Pointe Public School System administration building at 389 St. Clair Ave. in Grosse Pointe City has a new owner, but plans for redevelopment of the building remain largely the same.

After an initial plan by Curtis Building to repurpose the historical school building for residential use and to add eight new condominium units on the Notre Dame Street side of the property fell through earlier this year, the GPPSS sold the property to developer Brian Giles — based in Northbrook, Illinois — who at press time was creating this development under the name Condo Detroit LLC.

Giles said his group had bid on the property when the GPPSS was first seeking a buyer about three years ago, and they came in second place, after Curtis Building.

The only change was the timeline, City Planner John Jackson, of McKenna Associates, said during an Oct. 17 Grosse Pointe City Council meeting. Because the property has been purchased by a new developer, that developer was asking that the deadline to acquire all the needed building permits, special use permits and the like be changed from Dec. 31, 2022, to Dec. 31, 2023.

“Does that seem reasonable to you?” City Councilman Christopher Walsh asked of the new timeline.

Jackson said it did, “considering (the new developer) just got on board.”

Giles said he’d like to get going sooner than the end of next year.

“Dec. 31 (2023) is a conservative date,” Giles said. “We really hope to get our permits well before then.”

Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak stressed that the plan was the same as the one approved for Curtis Building.

“Everything … is the same as it was,” Tomkowiak said. “This is a simple matter of changing the date of when the permits have to be pulled by.”

There were a couple of other differences between Giles’ plan and the previous developer’s. He has reduced the number of apartments in the administration building to 17 — one fewer than the 18 allowed under conditional zoning for the original development. In addition, at press time, Giles said the eight townhouses would most likely be rental units. The previous developer had intended to sell the townhouses while renting out units in the administrative building.

“As of now, we’re looking for those to be a rental project,” Giles said of the townhouses.

The townhomes could also be sold to individual owners, depending on market conditions.

“I am not ruling that out,” Giles said.

Because he’s based in suburban Chicago, Giles said that, upon completion, the development would likely need to be managed by someone in the area.

“We’re going to need a local presence,” Giles said.

In keeping with the conditional zoning agreement with the City, the developer must start construction within six months of the building permit being issued. In addition, the agreement mandates that the developer receive certificates of occupancy for all units in the project no later than 24 months — or two years — after starting construction.

The project isn’t expected to come before the City Council/Planning Commission again.

“As stated by the Mayor and the City Planner … at the (Oct. 17) meeting, the only change the developer has requested in the already-approved site plan is the building permit deadline,” City Manager Peter Dame said by email. “This is a conditional zoning and the entire plan for this site was already approved last year when the Council approved the conditional zoning ordinance for this property.”

Because the City Council also serves as the Planning Commission, the Council sitting as the Planning Commission first voted unanimously Oct. 17 to recommend approval of the timeline change to the council, and then the City Council voted unanimously in favor of the recommendation.

Condo Detroit is gearing up for the project.

“We’ve already started predevelopment,” Giles said.

After the meeting, Giles said construction would likely start in 2023.

“If everything goes as we planned out, we intend to break ground with our permits in the summer,” Giles said.

Giles was born and raised in the Detroit area before moving to Chicago in 1995. He said he has a “long history” of adaptive reuse of historical buildings in his career, and his passion for these types of projects was what spurred him to bid on the school administration building.

“I love adaptive reuse,” Giles said. “I love restoring historic buildings. And this building is in such great shape.”

He said they intend to “maintain a lot of the historic elements” in the building and will be pursuing National Register of Historic Places recognition for the structure.

The former school administration building was recognized by the Grosse Pointe Historical Society with a bronze historic building plaque in 2004. The administrative building consists of two schools that were connected in 2002-2003. The older structure is the Cadieux School, built in 1905-1906 by the architectural firm of Stratton and Baldwin. It’s one of only two of the school district’s original buildings that are still standing; the other, the Cook Schoolhouse, was moved to Grosse Pointe Woods-owned property adjacent to Woods City Hall in 2006 and is maintained by the Grosse Pointe Woods Historical Commission. The Cadieux School was named for the Cadieux family, who lived in the community; according to the GPHS, Francis Cadieux was the District No. 1 School Inspector for 33 years. 

To accommodate a growing student population, a second building, designed by Joseph E. Mills, was constructed on the north side, at 399 St. Clair, in 1916.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Giles is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has owned the apartment and condominium development company Giles Real Estate LLC since 1993. The company is responsible for developments in Chicago and Detroit.

Because renovations on the administration building and construction of the townhomes will take time, Giles said he doesn’t anticipate residents being able to move in until mid-2024.

“We’re excited about this opportunity,” Giles said. “We fully intend for these units to be the best in class in the Pointes.”