Standing 19 stories tall at the juncture of Woodward Avenue, Park Avenue and Washington Boulevard in the Grand Circus Park Historic District, the majestic Graham, Burnham & Company-designed David Whitney Building is part of the gateway to downtown Detroit. The historic 1915 era, 253,000-sf building was named after David Whitney, a Michigan lumber baron and shipping magnate, and served as a bustling downtown retail and office center until it closed in late 1999.

Following a $92 million dollar renovation, the building reopened in December 2014 as a mixed-use facility with 105 residential apartments, a hotel with 135 rooms, and ground level retail. The hotel is Michigan’s first Aloft-branded destination hotel. Aloft Detroit at the David Whitney offers entertainment amenities including the edgy hotel brand’s wxyz bar, re: mix lounge, and re: fuel by Aloft (a 24/7 pantry). A full-service restaurant, 24-hour fitness center, and 10,000-sf of meeting and banquet rooms, including a grand ballroom, were also opened with the hotel.



The building renovation project was funded with a mix of historic brownfield and new market tax credits, as well as money from the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, Invest Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan Historic Preservation Network, and the Michigan Strategic Fund. During the renovation, all contractors and construction personnel followed a strict policy that was put into place to protect the building’s historic materials.

Designed in a Neo-Renaissance style faced with terra cotta and glazed brick, SME’s Historic Renovation Team provided a number of services for the project including façade evaluations, façade repair designs, and construction monitoring and testing. We conducted a detailed evaluation of the masonry and terra cotta elements on all levels of the exterior façade, the exposed façade within the interior light well, and the limestone façade of the interior lobby. The evaluation also included the review of the masonry lintels (stone and metal angle) and sill. The evaluations were performed using the ASCE 11-03 Standard Guideline for Structural Condition Assessment of Existing Buildings, and the reference standards of AISC, ACI, TMS, and other additional referenced industry guides.

Unstable components were identified pursuant to the City of Detroit’s five-year façade inspection requirement. SME’s project team then prepared design drawings specifications, and details for repair and replacement of damaged and deteriorated elements of the façade for the redevelopment ream. SME’s geotechnical engineers also designed a temporary bracing system to allow for excavation and construction of two elevator pits that extended over 8 feet below the basement floor. Segmental underpinning was incorporated into the project drawings.



During construction, SME provided construction monitoring and testing services to review the contractors’ work and identify any other distressed façade issues that were exposed during the restoration. SME also reviewed contractors’ invoices to help the owner’s representative verify materials and quantities were consistent with project specifications.