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Guardian Building, Detroit, Mich.

October 12, 2010 |

The relocation and consolidation of hundreds of employees from seven departments of Wayne County, Mich., into the historic Guardian Building in downtown Detroit is a refreshing tale of smart government planning and clever financial management that will benefit taxpayers in the economically distressed region for years to come.

The Guardian Building was designed by Wirt C. Rowland, of Smith Hinchman and Grylls (now SmithGroup) and completed in 1929 as the Union Guardian Building. It combined Native American, Aztec, and Arts & Crafts influences in an inspiring display of Art Deco enthusiasm, with polychromed terra cotta on its exterior, travertine marble from Italy and Numidian marble from Africa on the walls and floors, Monel metal in the ornamental screen in the lobby, custom tiles by Mary Chase Stratton’s Pewabic Pottery, and sculpted architectural reliefs by Corrado Parducci—no wonder people called it “The Cathedral of Finance.” It has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

For two decades, the county had been paying $5.2 million a year in rent for space at 600 Randolph in Detroit—more than $100 million total. Seven years ago, as the lease was running out, the county purchased the Guardian Building (along with another building and a parking structure) for $14 million and bonded another $13.5 million for tenant improvements.

By 2008, with construction costs at favorable levels, the county bonded for another $30 million to change the project scope and accelerate the capital improvement schedule. The Building Team brought the project in at $33,261,000 in construction costs, $11,535,000 (25.7%) below budget.

The HVAC system was upgraded, improving indoor air quality and energy efficiency, and a distributed direct digital controls system was installed, along with video conferencing technology, flat screen monitors for public presentations, electronic faxing to reduce the use of paper, and Voice Over IP, which eliminated 3,500 land lines and will save $500,000 in phone costs.

Instead of shelling out $5.2 million a year at 600 Randolph, plus $1 million at another building, the annual operating costs for the county’s space in the Guardian Building is only $1.9 million. With payment of the debt service, taxpayers will come out $2 million ahead every year—and the county owns a historic building with an estimated current value of $60-100 million. BD+C


Building Team

Owner: Department of Economic Development, Wayne County, Mich.

Submitting firm: SmithGroup (architect, AOR, SE/MEP engineer)

Property manager: Sterling Group

Construction administrator: Hines

General contractor: Sachse Construction/Tooles Contracting Group JV

General Information

Area: 495,600 rentable sf

Construction Cost: $33,261,000

Construction time: September 2008 to December 2009

Delivery method: PM/GC

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