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Low metallic silver buildings line a street. There’s a lot of trees surrounding them. There’s taller buildings in the distance.
Aerial view of Quonset huts and Core City developments.
Chris Miele

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Core City developer outlines grand plans for district

Philip Kafka has signed an agreement with the city to potentially purchase and develop 100 properties in the area. He wants to turn most of it into green space.

A unique mixed-use district at the intersection of Warren and Grand River avenues is going to expand in the coming years.

Developer Philip Kafka and his real estate firm, Prince Concepts, has entered into an agreement with the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA) giving him an option over five years for around 100 vacant properties, mostly empty lots, between Buchanan and Hancock streets. Detroit City Council has already approved the sale of the first 39 lots.

Kafka has been steadily developing at the Core City intersection over the past few years, constructing or redeveloping buildings in a striking way. The once-sleepy area now has residential Quonset huts, a former auto repair shop-turned-restaurant, a former parking lot-turned-park, and an idiosyncratic set of buildings that house a bakery, coffee roaster, offices, and studios. In less than a month, Detroit-based online plant company Bloomscape will move into a former grocery store that now has 20 trees planted inside the building and interior courtyard.

Aerial view of a plaza with trees. It’s surrounded by three buildings and shipping containers.
Core City Park surrounded by Prince Concept–owned buildings.
Chris Miele

With his agreement with the city finalized, Kafka’s vision is set to expand further west and south. “We’re basically taking the concept of Core City Park and spreading it across the entire neighborhood,” Kafka says. “The plan is to lead with landscaping and public space.”

The Grand River–facing shipping containers at the edge of the park will be removed, opening it up to the rest of the neighborhood. Much of the land across Grand River, both already owned by Prince and to be purchased from the DLBA, will be converted into green space. Kafka says that he plans to build on just 12 percent of the parcels—the rest will be a combination of gardens and parks. About an acre will be what he describes as “park spacing,” or a highly landscaped parking lot.

Mostly housing, plus some office and commercial space, will be interspersed within this large park-like area. Designs are still in the very early stages, and prices for the units aren’t close to being set, but Kafka anticipates a 50/50 mix of rental and for-sale. He’ll be working with collaborators on previous designs—architects Edwin Chan and Ish Rafiuddin, landscape architect Julie Bargmann—for this expansion.

Kafka believes that this kind of landscaped placemaking will serve to create an “inspired” area that matures as it ages. “After 10 years, all the real estate will have deteriorated whereas the landscape will only have improved,” he says.

He adds that this kind of development could only happen in Detroit. “The acquisition cost is low enough where I don’t have to squeeze every parking space and residential unit out of the land.”

Though he declined to provide a total budget for the project, he says his goal is to spend around $120 per square foot on buildings and $50 per square foot on landscaping.

The terms of the agreement with the city stipulate that Prince Concepts must get approval to purchase the properties from City Council, then submit development plans to the DLBA and Planning and Development Department before final approval. The cost for Prince to buy parcels this year is $1 per square foot, with the price increasing by 5 percent each year with compounding interest through 2024.

The combined size of the optioned properties is about 9.25 acres.

Map of Core City. Prince Concepts has the option to buy the blue parcels with green dots.
City of Detroit

Within the first 30 months, Prince must complete a number of milestones for the agreement to be extended for the second 30 months.

  • Build at least 14 new residential units of housing, or 7,000 square feet of new commercial space, or a combination of both
  • Submit development plans for at least 20 percent of the development within the first year and be under construction on at least 50 percent within the second year
  • Complete a public green space with a total investment greater than $75,000
  • Plant approximately four trees—half of which must be mature—per parcel purchased from the DLBA

Kafka says he hopes to break ground in about a year and have phase one complete in about 2.5 years, right at the 30 month mark.

“We put a lot of emphasis on design,” he says. “I won’t break ground on something until I’m on the edge of my seat and can’t wait for it to exist.”

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