You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Same name, very different future for Northland mall site

Detroit Free Press logo Detroit Free Press 11/23/2020 JC Reindl, Detroit Free Press

Next spring will mark six years since Northland mall in Southfield closed for good after a long and ungraceful decline.

Pending the finalization of a planned sale of the shuttered property,  next spring could also herald the start of the site's dramatic rebirth as something very different from a mall — and a rehabilitation of sorts for the "Northland" brand.

Southfield Mayor Ken Siver said last week that if the city's $11.1 million sale of the 97-acre mall site to Bloomfield Hills-based development firm Contour Companies closes as expected in January, demolition and construction activities for Northland's replacement could be underway as early as March.

Start the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.

Contour has proposed a large, market-rate housing development with some retail components. The project — called Northland City Center — would cost "hundreds of millions" to build and involve two phases, with the initial phase taking four to five years, said David Dedvukaj, chief operating officer of Contour, whose father, Pete Dedvukaj, founded the firm.

a road with a building in the background: Illustrations of early redevelopment plans © City of Southfield Illustrations of early redevelopment plans

"We call it a city within a city," said Dedvukaj, who doesn't believe the mall's struggles in its latter years irrevocably tarnished the Northland name.

"I know people had that stigma about Northland, but we want to get rid of that history," he said.

The redevelopment's Phase I would cover 45 acres and involve more than 1,500 housing units, spread across 14 new five-story buildings, plus the old mall's ground-level retail spaces where about 250 lofts would be constructed. Six of the new buildings would face Greenfield Road and have ground-floor commercial space. All of the housing would be for-rent.

diagram, engineering drawing: Contour Companies plan on redeveloping the area in two different phases. © City of Southfield Contour Companies plan on redeveloping the area in two different phases.

The old four-story Macy's building, originally a Hudson's, would be saved and transformed into "Hudson's City Market." The market would be modeled on the Ponce City Market in Atlanta that contains a food hall, home furnishings shops and offices.

More: Warehouse space is hot right now in metro Detroit. Here's a look at some big projects

More: Upscale women's boutique passes on Somerset mall for downtown Birmingham

Northland's rusty water tower would be repainted and preserved for aesthetic purposes. Its nearby maintenance and power plant building also would be saved and possibly turned into a clubhouse and fitness club for Northland City Center residents, Dedvukaj said.

a tower that has a sign on a pole: The Northland Center water tower in Southfield, Michigan on Nov 19, 2020. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press The Northland Center water tower in Southfield, Michigan on Nov 19, 2020.

The vast underground tunnels beneath the mall also would be retained and used as parking for residents and retailers.

"We’re going to clean it up and use it for parking on one side, and the rest will be loading docks and entry-exit for truck deliveries," Dedvukaj said of the tunnel network.

The possibilities for Phase II, covering an additional 40 acrescould be more residential, perhaps some senior housing and for-purchase townhouses, Dedvukaj said.

"That’s still up in the air for Phase II," he said. "We’re focusing on Phase I right now and making that work."

Contour has done many previous housing rehab projects and some all-new construction. The Northland redevelopment would be the firm's largest project to date, Dedvukaj said.

"This project is a juggernaut. It’s large. It’s on the map," he said. “But I think we have a vision and a plan that will work."

Past proposals

Southfield's mayor said Contour's redevelopment plans are "exceeding our vision" for the Northland site. 

A few of the past prospects for the Northland site, which the city started acquiring in late 2015, included at various times marijuana dispensaries, medical offices, senior housing, bulk warehouse and distribution centers, a felon re-entry center, a car dealership, even a Costco. But none of those proposals panned out.

a sign in the middle of a field: One of a few Northland Center signs outside of the fence off area at the abandoned mall in Southfield, Michigan on Nov 19, 2020. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press One of a few Northland Center signs outside of the fence off area at the abandoned mall in Southfield, Michigan on Nov 19, 2020.

“One of the reasons why a lot of people came and kicked the tires at Northland was they recognized it’s a tremendous site and it’s centrally located — connected to two freeways and two major mile roads," Siver said. “So there was a lot of interest, but a lot of people didn’t want to be first, and they didn’t want to invest if the mall wasn’t torn down.”  

The City of Southfield paid $2.4 million in late 2015 for a large portion of the total 114-acre Northland site to gain control over its future redevelopment.

The city went on to pay another $2.6 million or so to acquire additional mall parcels and buildings that weren't included in the deal, such as the former Target and J.C. Penney buildings and the auto service center on Greenfield, according to Siver.

In addition, the city spent more money doing engineering reports and undoing easements, plus about $3 million for environmental remediation at the site, including asbestos removal from the old J.C. Penney. Triumph Church bought the old Penney's in 2013, but never realized its plan to make the department store into a worship space and decided to sell it to the city.

For the empty Macy's, the mayor said Southfield got a very good deal.

a large brick building with Everson Museum of Art in the background: Part of the Northland Center in Southfield, Michigan on Nov 19, 2020. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press Part of the Northland Center in Southfield, Michigan on Nov 19, 2020.

"Macy’s decided they were just going to walk away," Siver said. Macy's "didn't believe they could sell a building with half a million square feet, so they gave the building to the city."

Last month, Southfield City Council approved an $11.1 million agreement to sell nearly the entire Northland site to Contour. The deal is expected to close in mid-January. Once it does, Southfield will have more or less broken even on its Northland adventure, Siver said.

 “We wanted to control the destiny of this property," Siver said. "Really our patience has paid off."

Pre-COVID discussions

Southfield officials began discussions with Contour in the weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March.

a tractor parked in the dirt: Construction equipment inside the fenced off Northland Center in Southfield, Michigan on Nov 19, 2020. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press Construction equipment inside the fenced off Northland Center in Southfield, Michigan on Nov 19, 2020.

Siver said he contacted officials in cities where Contour had done redevelopments and heard positive reports. Some of the firm's notable recent projects include refurbishing and reopening a 504-unit apartment complex in Toledo and redeveloping a historic and vacant mill in Greenville, South Carolina, into 260 lofts and commercial space.

“We have every confidence that this will be successful," Siver said.

Under the pending deal, Contour would demolish — at its own cost — parts of Northland, particularly the enclosed portions of the mall added in the 1970s. It then would do adaptive reuse for some of the original Northland buildings from 1954.

The city received price quotes of $10 million to $14 million to demolish all of Northland, but didn't proceed.

The city did raze the Target store, which was a location under consideration for a branch of Costco tailored to small businesses, called Costco Business Centers. Costco, however, stopped pursuing the store, Siver said.

Development subsidies expected

Contour is in the process of applying for various development incentives and subsidies that would make its redevelopment plan financially feasible, Dedvukaj said.

a gate in front of a fence: The fenced off Northland Center in Southfield, Michigan on Nov 19, 2020. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press The fenced off Northland Center in Southfield, Michigan on Nov 19, 2020.

So far, the pandemic is having a minimal effect on the project because there remains a strong demand for new housing, he said. The anticipated rent levels for the Phase I units have not been set.

As for the project's overall financing, Dedvukaj offered few deals on how Contour plans to pay for constructing the new Northland, but said that aspect of the deal is looking good.

"We have our own equity into it, and our lenders are very excited about it," he said.

Contact JC Reindl at 313-222-6631 or jcreindl@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @jcreindl. Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Same name, very different future for Northland mall site

AdChoices

More from Detroit Free Press

Detroit Free Press
Detroit Free Press
AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon