Got stuff? Need a place to store that stuff or need a way to haul that stuff from place to place? The New Center area in Detroit is getting a place that will help you do just that … and rehab a great old building as well.
U-Haul is taking an active interest in revitalizing Detroit. It’s restoring the 90-plus-year-old, seven-story National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) building at 899 W. Baltimore St. and will soon open it as a full-service moving and storage center. The goal is to open early this year.
The company is also looking into a potential mixed-use on the upper floors down the road.
This restoration is no small feat. When they started work, the 250,000-square-foot building had no water and no power. The copper had been stolen long ago so the building had to be rewired.
The basement was under water. Walls, ceilings and columns had to be scraped. Floors had to be raised. Ancient elevators fixed. The brick walls in what will be the showroom had to be sealed and the floor there raised 15 feet. The beautiful 27-foot cathedral windows had to be fixed. Keep in mind these are old, old windows so they are not uniform and certainly not common. The restoration team is using as many of the old windows as possible. The new ones must be hand cut.
The steam heating system had to be rehabilitated. Steam heat stays and for good reason, because steam is a great renewable energy source. U-Haul will not only use steam to heat the building but is re-using the water being collected in the condensate line from the steam to provide heat for the radiant flooring. It’s working with Detroit Thermal LLC, which has been distributing steam in Detroit since 1903. Just so you know the Detroit steam distribution system is one of the oldest and largest in North America.
According to a blog by U-Haul, Detroit Thermal generates steam at its Downtown plant using a waste-to-energy conversion system, a source of energy that the Environmental Protection Agency classifies as renewable. Most of the 80,000 football fans who come to Ford Field to see the Lions play or the 40,000 who watch the Tigers at Comerica Park have no idea the heat for nearly 150 buildings in Central Detroit is being generated just a block away.
Nabisco also needed a railroad to move its product. That turned out to be a blessing. The railroad siding at the rear of the building runs along what was used as a shipping and receiving platform at the second-floor level. That made it easier to get large, heavy construction materials into the building. There’s also a railroad platform above the space that will house the showroom.
Today the steel is in, the doors are in and the floor is ready and construction of the self-storage units on the third floor gets is underway.
Tony Balcerzak, U-Haul’s project manager and a Detroit native, is in the middle of all this. His job is to get all of it done and to change as little in the building as possible. Since work started in last July he’s seen lots of progress … and found some mighty strange things. “There was nothing alive in the building when I took it over,” he told us on our tour of the building.
There was initially some concern about that. The building had been empty for so long everyone wondered what animals might have taken up residence.
The animals may have been non-existent but there were other spooky things in the building. After pumping all the water out of the basement they found a long, dark tunnel filled with sludge in the basement that seemed to go nowhere. Some believe long ago there where tunnels connecting buildings in the area. The tunnel comes out under the parking lot by the building. U-Haul will add some stairs and turn it into place to store equipment to work on the trucks or where employees working on those trucks in the wintertime can come to get out of the cold.
Balcerzak and his team have also found many treasures … old grain pits and scales, baking equipment, staircases that will be returned to their original beauty, gigantic pillars in beautiful open spaces and more.
So why is U-Haul going through all this. First, it believes opening a facility Downtown is simply good business. Second, as a company it is committed to the revitalization of urban communities.
“We will be a national brand name investing in the New Center community. We will provide a safe, acceptable refuge for urban pioneers as they reenter and secure their new residences and businesses in the area,” says Joe Shoen, CEO of U-Haul International. “Our entry will reinforce efforts made by others to stabilize the area.”
U-Haul has also revitalized buildings in Milwaukee, Tampa and Chicago and won awards for doing so. The former warehouse U-Haul renovated in Milwaukee received the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver Certification for commercial interiors.
DETROIT U-HAUL RENOVATION PHOTOS
Note the water line where the basement of the large building was flooded. It was all pumped out.
The building has lots of room good for various types of projects
Some machinery was left behind. This is part of an old floor scale.
Floor scale detail – the things you find rehabbing a building
Working on the windows of the NBC building in Detroit
Walking through Uhaul in Detroit building under rehab by power section
Don’t forget to look up to see the original industrial elements
Old power meter in the old Nabsico building in Detroit
Giant doors are in the basement
Close up of door handle in Nabisco basement
Historic Fisher Building from NBC Building in Detroit
From basement looking up at load in area
Old scoop for materials from trucks connected to basement in previous picture
Fire suppression system (it works!)
The floors in some areas are heated by this system
Old steam pipe cover
Looking up from inside Nabisco Building
Renovation cleared open floor space in NBC building in Detroit
Unfinished floor in Nabisco U-Haul renovation in Detroit
You never know what you’ll find during a renovation project. Here’s a car door.
Entrance stairway of NBC U-Haul building in Detroit