It took nearly six years, but the restoration of the Forest Arms Apartments will officially begin with a ceremonial groundbreaking today. The building has been empty since 2008, when a massive fire tore through its roof and uppermost floor. If the restoration goes according to plan, Midtown should have 70 ready-to-lease apartments by 2015. Mind you, this won't be your grandpa's Forest Arms. Once complete, it might be one of the most forward-thinking apartment buildings in Detroit.
If you're the kind of person who likes silver linings, that 2008 fire was almost cleansing for the 108-year-old building. In an old article from the South End, then-Deputy Fire Chief Thomas DeCoster made the case that a hodgepodge of renovations left the Forest Arms especially susceptible to fire.
"The ceiling is all cut up from being renovated and renovated and renovated," DeCoster said. "The ceiling has two separate ceilings, so, there is a three-foot gap between the top and the bottom. Once the flame gets in there, it travels (and) it jumps from floor to floor because there are no fire stops with older construction." The building's interior must be almost entirely rebuilt off of the rough framing. Developers are taking the opportunity to install some interesting features:
· Added partial penthouse floor with five additional apartments
· Twenty-seven geothermal wells for heating/air conditioning
· Roof deck for resident use
· Rainwater cisterns, which will provide water for flushing toilets
· Rooftop solar panels to aid with hot water
· Soundproof band-practice room in the former boiler room The final product will be 56 one-bedroom units, 9 two-bedroom units, and 5 penthouse apartments ranging from 450 to 800 square feet. Remember People's Records and Amsterdam Espresso? Those old commercial spaces—both facing Forest Street--will be given the mechanicals to support new restaurant facilities. It'll be fun to see what moves in.
The project has gone through the usual delays that come with historic renovations relying on tax credits—our initial report on the building estimated construction would start in December 2012. Credit Scott Lowell and Carolyn Howard of Traffic Jam and Snug for seeing it through. If not for their efforts, the building likely would've been demolished years ago, when a competing developer aspired to build a fast food restaurant on the property.