Hudson’s Site Development

A landmark mixed use development on Woodward Avenue in the heart of downtown Detroit representing a new era emerging in the Motor City: The intersection of muscle and brains.

For generations, Hudson’s (also known as the “Big Store” and “J.L. Hudson’s”) was the premier retailer in downtown Detroit, and one of the most important department stores in the country. The massive flagship store anchored the bustling Woodward Avenue shopping corridor, and at 25 stories was the tallest department store in the world. Its more than 2 million square feet made it second in overall size only to Macy’s New York, and that by a mere 26,000 square feet. The store’s enormity nearly defies belief in the era of online shopping with more than 200 departments spread over 49 acres of floor space and featuring roughly 600,000 items.

Growing from modest beginnings in the Detroit Opera House, Hudson’s broke ground in 1891, ultimately undergoing 12 expansions, with final additions in 1946 extending the store over an entire city block. The building was designed in a style reminiscent of the early Chicago School, and was constructed of steel, brick, granite, and limestone. Detroit and Hudson’s reached their zenith in the 1950’s and 1960’s – in fact, in 1954, Hudson’s had sales of more than $163 million which is equal to more than $1.4 billion today. However, both Hudson’s and the city were in decline by the middle 1970’s. Hudson’s closed its doors in 1983, and the building was imploded in 1998, leaving a large vacant space in the heart of this great American city.

In 2013, Rock Ventures and Bedrock hosted an international design competition “Redesigning Detroit: A New Vision for an Iconic Site,” an ideas competition which solicited ideas for a potential signature project on the former Hudson’s Department Store site in downtown Detroit. The three winning design ideas came from Rome, Italy; Kalamazoo, Michigan and Southfield, Michigan. Entrants were asked to create compelling visions for a new urban development on the vacant 92,421 square-foot site, bordered by Woodward Avenue, Gratiot Avenue, Grand River Avenue and Library Street in the heart of downtown Detroit. View the winning ideas here.

All great cities lose some of their most important architectural monuments over time. Try to find New York’s Pennsylvania Station, or Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel. Detroit has not escaped that fate, but its biggest architectural loss may yet yield its greatest opportunity and something that can be the pride of the city.


1915. Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

1929. Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

1943. Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

1961. Copyright Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

1989. Taken by William T. Cook

1989. Taken by William T. Cook

1998. Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images


This new, transformational development will rise from the two-acre site of the former J.L. Hudson’s Department Store. It will be a catalyst for returning the once-commercial heartbeat of the city to an economic engine once again.

The development plans were designed by New York City-based SHoP architects in partnership with Detroit-based architects Hamilton Anderson Associates. Retail, residential, parking and a community civic space focusing on technology as well as local food and culture will be among the amenities for residents and visitors alike.

This development is slated to include a 734-foot tower, which will make it the tallest building in the city, combined with a nine-story structure together totaling 1.5 million gross square feet.

Transformational developments positively impact an entire area. They attract visitors; are magnets for talent, business and investment; and create a positive ripple effect on the area around them. This results in significant economic impact for the city and its residents.

Learn more about the project below and in this press release and share your Hudson’s stories and memories with us.

We’ve reached an inflection point in Detroit: we need to “go vertical” with large-scale projects to keep the positive momentum going. The Hudson’s site is important for the history of Detroit. And it’s a symbol of downtown’s journey to reclaim its place as an urban center that competes with other cities across the country. We need to bring jobs, talent, business, investment and growth to Detroit, as well as provide opportunity for Detroiters.

This is exactly the type of project for which the tool is intended – transformational developments on complicated sites like vacant shopping malls, empty factories, large abandoned buildings and contaminated land. These developments have the potential to jump-start communities across Michigan, including Detroit, as well as cities like Flint, Muskegon, Sault Ste. Marie and Saginaw.

Without the Michigan Thrive Initiative, this transformational plan for the Hudson’s site will not be possible. The project will have to be dramatically reduced in scale and impact. It will not have the same potential to be a catalyst for Downtown Detroit and Michigan’s economy, nor will it have the same catalytic economic output that this proposed plan will deliver.

We are proposing a development that is more than just a building. This project can transform the downtown area and the city’s economy, creating jobs and housing and inspiring spinoff development. Transformational projects attract visitors; are magnets for talent, business and investment; generate new jobs; and create a positive ripple effect on the area around it. Just think of Hudson’s in its day. It wasn’t just a department store – it was a destination. It drew residents and visitors to downtown Detroit where they spent a day shopping at Hudson’s but also patronizing the retail, restaurants and entertainment around it. It was the commercial heartbeat of the city. The Michigan Thrive Initiative will enable a project that lives up to the site’s legacy.

Additionally, Detroit is known for its architecture. It’s the only city in the U.S. with a UNESCO City of Design distinction. We want to honor Detroit’s storied architectural legacy by creating a meaningful addition to the skyline with a new landmark building.

We are working with both SHoP out of New York City and Hamilton Anderson from Detroit. Both bring extensive expertise in construction projects such as the one we are proposing. We think outside vision combined with local perspective will result in the most meaningful addition to downtown Detroit and metro region.

We worked with WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, one of the nation’s leading economic analysis firms, to evaluate economic impact of this project. Overall, the project will support more than 5,800 jobs (new, direct and indirect) and generate $1.553 billion in new economic output during the construction phase. When complete, the development will support more than 3,000 permanent jobs and generate an estimated $560 million in total annual economic impact annually.

We are still determining the exact program, but it will focus on technology as well as local food and culture. The vision is to create a sense of community in a place that holds a lot of history for Detroiters. We want all Detroiters and visitors to be able to enjoy this development.

We have not yet selected the specific retailers that will be in this location. We are still in the planning phase and will have more to share as the project progresses.

Parking is obviously in high demand, especially as more and more businesses continue to move downtown. Our plan includes below-grade parking for those who are living and working in the development, as well as visiting.

We plan to break ground by December 1, 2017.

This is such an important site for the city – not just for its location, but because Hudson’s was such a significant economic engine for the city and a gathering place for the community. We wanted to be thoughtful about what we build here to live up to that legacy. This is a carefully considered, well-thought out plan. We are confident that we will have a tremendously positive impact on Detroit, not only economically but also aesthetically with a meaningful addition to the skyline.

Everyone has strong memories of visiting Hudson’s. Share your memories and stories with us below!