Old Redford celebrated new life for a 104-year-old building in Detroit during the inaugural Artist Village Arts Festival this weekend.
The former bank building on Grand River and Lahsher was renovated by The Platform, a Detroit-based real estate developer, for $3.6 million and has been dubbed the Obama Building by neighboring residents. It will soon be home to four small businesses, all of which are owned by Black women.
Detroit artist Charles “Chazz” Miller created art for the “Yes, We Can” exhibition, which was first unveiled at the Artist Village festival on Saturday. Miller has a simple message for developers who want to restore buildings in Detroit: Lead with local artists, entrepreneurs and talent.
“The developer comes in and their intention is really to build the community up as opposed to just siphon off of it,” he said.
The Platform, which launched in 2016, met with community members, local businesses and elected officials to make sure the Obama Building would meet the needs and wants of longtime Old Redford residents and young creatives moving into the area alike.
Four Black woman-owned shops — Laced by Deja, C.L.A.S.S. (Changing Lives and Staying Sober) Agency, H.A.U.S. (Healing Achieved Using the Simplicity) of Healthy Living, and DawanaFit — are the first businesses to lease space inside the Obama Building.
Dr. Karla Mitchell, executive director of C.L.A.S.S. Agency and owner of H.A.U.S. of Healthy Living, said the building was originally designed to house heath-and-wellness-themed organizations and businesses.
“Because a large part of my work is around helping people make informed health care choices and making sure people have access to the resources that support their mental health and their behavioral health, I thought what a perfect place to intersect my work, and to make services accessible at the community level,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said this business corridor in northwest Detroit is important because “outside of the Avenue of Fashion on Livernois,” there aren’t many places Detroiters can go to shop without driving to multiple places.
“Now we have another hub where people can come, park their cars, visit several places that’s right here, and spend their money and time in the city,” she said.
The building has four more storefront spaces still available for lease, and four affordable apartment units that are as low as 60 percent of the average median income. All four of the apartments are occupied.
The building has two studio apartments that range from 471 to 536 square feet and rent for $775 to $825 a month. The building also has a 704-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment at $875 a month, and a 1,208-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment at $1,200 a month.
The gallery inside the Obama Building is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 6 p.m., and features a restored and revamped painting of his titled “First Dance.” The painting depicts former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama dancing at his 2009 inauguration ceremony.
The painting was originally an outdoor mural on the side of the building before it was restored, and now hangs inside the Obama Building. Miller, who was born and raised in the city, said he originally made the piece to brighten up the then-heavily blighted corner of Old Redford.
“Just like seeing the Obamas in the White House gave so many African Americans hope, I wanted to bring that same kind of hope to this community,” Miller said.
Miller started Artist Village in 2003 as a way to create a community of artists of all disciplines in the city. Miller said he hadn’t seen many pieces celebrating Black love out in public spaces before he finished his “First Dance” painting.
“This is a Black man and a Black woman who are advocating a positive relationship through this loving embrace, and that’s just not something you see everywhere” he said.
If you’re interested in leasing a storefront in the Obama Building, call The Platform at 313.446.8600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find more of Chazz Miller’s original artwork on his website.