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Taubman jumps back into civic, business life

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  • James
    A. Alfred Taubman today is thrusting himself back into the middle of the Metro Detroit business scene, just months after his release from prison. In his first
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2003
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      A. Alfred Taubman today is thrusting himself back into the middle of the Metro Detroit business scene, just months after his release from prison. In his first public speech since serving nearly a year behind bars for fixing art prices, Taubman plans to champion the redevelopment of the Detroit riverfront. Taubman told The Detroit News in an interview Wednesday that he is scouting property along the Detroit River to build a residential development and will push fellow developers to join him. "If you provide people with a nice place to live in a high-rise or mid-rise residential tower with good views of the river, they will come," Taubman said. "There is just no other place in the region that has the views like Detroit, where you can see Belle Isle, Windsor and the Ambassador Bridge." Taubman, founder and former chairman of Taubman Centers Inc. in Bloomfield Hills, said he is looking at land along the east riverfront for an upscale residential tower. He co-developed three waterfront residential towers, Riverfront Apartments, in the mid-1980s. Co-owner of Sotheby's Holdings Inc., the art house in New York, Taubman was convicted in 2002 of fixing art prices there and sent to prison. Taubman stepped down as chairman of Taubman Centers and Sotheby's last year. He was released in June, nearly six weeks early, for good behavior. He declined to discuss his jail experience Wednesday, preferring instead to focus on the future. Speaking by telephone from London, Taubman cited factors that favor the riverfront's rebirth. "You now have football, baseball, hockey, theaters and restaurants downtown and you're beginning to offer people a lifestyle," he said. "There are also plans to add a riverfront promenade and remove the old industrial uses on the river." City leaders said they were behind Taubman's push. "We have earmarked the east riverfront to become a residential community with retail," said George W. Jackson Jr., president and chief executive of Detroit Economic Growth Corp., a quasi-public development agency in Detroit. "Mr. Taubman is a first-class developer with a proven track record in the city. He definitely has the professional talent to bring a residential project to fruition, and we hope to meet with him shortly." Taubman declined to say where along the river he was looking to add a residential tower. He said the project would be handled by a company he co- owns in New York called The Athena Group. Since 1993, The Athena Group has developed and renovated several residential towers in New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami. One high-rise project in Miami, called The Waverly at South Beach, offers nearly 400 condominiums with views of Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Prices start at $250,000 and more than 300 condos have been sold. Teaming with Max Fisher In Detroit, Taubman and industrialist Max Fisher plan to convert two of three towers at Riverfront Apartments next year into condominiums, in addition to his plan to build a new tower. Taubman said he and Fisher consider the Riverfront project "quite successful" even though the two partners have yet to make money on the deal. "We wanted to make a statement with Riverfront Apartments that you could build on the river and make it work," Taubman said. "We plan to begin condo sales next year." About 570 apartments would be converted into condos. Prices would range from $95,000 to $310,000, and existing tenants would be given the first opportunity to buy. Downtown's rebirth In his speech today at the University of Michigan/Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum in Ann Arbor, Taubman was to talk about how the addition of more than 10,000 workers downtown over the last five years will help spur housing demand. Since 1998, General Motors Corp. established its world headquarters at the Renaissance Center and added more than 7,000 employees, Compuware Corp. recently opened an office and commercial facility for 4,100 workers and EDS Corp. will move the last of 1,500 workers to the RenCen by the end of the year. "Like any great city, Detroit's past is full of triumphs and tragedies," Taubman plans to say in his speech, which was provided to The News. "We will no doubt continue to struggle with change and opportunity. But from my vantage point, I see plenty of greatness still ahead of us." Taubman, with a personal fortune estimated at more than $700 million, said low interest rates, more effective city services and the availability of land along the river will help drive residential growth. Last year, General Motors, the city of Detroit and several dozen partners announced a $2 billion plan to remake the east riverfront from the RenCen to Belle Isle, adding new and renovated residences, stores, restaurants, parks and a riverfront walk stretching three miles. A similar effort is being studied for the west riverfront from Joe Louis Arena to the Ambassador Bridge. Encouraging news David Farbman, co-president of the Farbman Group, a full-service real estate firm in Southfield, said he is encouraged by Taubman's riverfront comments. Two years ago, Farbman began converting old pharmaceutical offices along the river into 48 condos priced from $200,000 to $600,000. The project, Lofts at 200 Riverplace, has sold more than 30 units. "If Al Taubman believes the river is the place for future residential development, I will jump in line and follow him," Farbman said. "He is a great visionary and I'm glad to say we are already enjoying success on the river." Taubman's company, which he founded in 1950, owns or operates 31 upscale shopping malls nationwide, including Twelve Oaks in Novi. It recently successfully fought off a hostile takeover bid. In addition to retail development, Taubman is helping to raise money for improvements at the Detroit Institute of Arts, College for Creative Studies and University of Michigan. You can reach R.J. King at (313) 222-2504 or rjking @....
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