Inn, historic district are redefining Detroit
DETROIT, Mich. — The Inn On Ferry Street is a beautiful vessel that shines in rough waters.
That is why I loved it so much.
The Inn, along East Ferry Street in the historic district of midtown is actually four restored Victorian homes and two carriage houses just two miles north of downtown Detroit. There is a sense of solace and 21st century sophistication at the Inn with a rust-belt city in the process of redefinition as its backdrop.
I stayed at the Inn during a spring visit to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in Auburn Hills, a world away from downtown Detroit. Each historic home is named after a key industrial figure in the late 1800s development of Detroit. The street itself is named after Dexter Ferry, the founder of a visionary Detroit seed company. The street was the site of the test plots for his seeds, which weren’t for farmers but for middle-class home gardeners. Beautiful ideas have always been planted on FerryStreet.
I was in one of four upstairs guest rooms in The Scott House (built in 1886 by John Scott, a Detroit architect who eventually lived in the house), which also serves as guest check-in. The house’s large parlor, with a hand-carved fireplace, is a gathering place for breakfast, that also boasts an honor bar and complimentary newspapers. A sun is carved into downstairs white oak. Locally roasted Great Lakes coffee is served 24/7, something I always look for when on the road.
Whenever I think about sleeping in a gussied-up Victorian home-turned-inn I start freaking out about stuffed animals on a frilly bedsheet and perfumy potpourri everywhere. The Inn on Ferry is not that kind of place.
Nor it is not a bed and breakfast where sleepy drones like me are forced to talk to strangers first thing in the morning.
My upstairs room, which faced Ferry Street, was so spacious and comfortable I blew off my intended plans of going to Slow’s BBQ near the site of the old Tiger Stadium. I took a bath in the jacuzzi-jetted tub and ordered room service. The popular Union Street restaurant in Midtown brings food to the inn (excellent black bean soup topped with Jalapeno sour cream). Guests in any house can amble into the parlor for complimentary breakfast any time between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. Monday through Friday and a bit later on weekends. The Inn also offers a free shuttle service to and from any place in downtown Detroit between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.
The Inn was developed by Midtown Detroit, a non-profit planning and economic development agency. The group partnered with the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), which owned the property and had been using some of the old homes for storage.
“People are always surprised there’s something like this in Detroit,” said Detroit native and president of Midtown Detroit Inc., Susan Mosey, during a recent phone interview. “It’s nestled in that neighborhood. Either you like it or a few people don’t get it. It’s [not the usual thing people envision] about the city.”
Mosey put a practical game plan into play for the Inn.
“I wanted to make sure it was comfortable and not overly Victorian,” she said. “It was really built for a university audience, and I think we hit the mark.
“It is a lovely street. The DIA didn’t know what to do with the homes. We didn’t have any guest rooms in the neighborhood servicing people visiting the cultural centers. We decided to tackle all of the homes together. We recently bought one on the corner and are going to create extended stay units in that building. ... Our biggest clients are Wayne State University, leisure travelers and a lot of folks who come in for the museum. Yoko Ono stayed there because she did an installation [at DIA]. Frank Gehry. Ken Burns. Jane Goodall. ...”
All the buildings comprising the Inn are on the local, state andNational Register of Historic Places. Some homes have sandstone exteriors, other exterior materials came from a quarry in Ontario, Canada. “It’s a variety which actually is what makes the street interesting,” Mosey said.
After 18 months of construction, the Inn opened about a week after 9/11. Total cost for the project restoration (including new furniture and fixtures) was $8.5 million.
“A lot of people said, ‘This is never going to work, you’re going to have to connect these buildings, no one will go outside to get to their house’,” Mosey said. “For the most part people have been accepting of the fact they are coming to a historic street and things are basically laid out as they were in 1880 when the homes were built.
“People in the hotel business could not get their heads around this place. We started out with two different hotel management companies, but after two years I saw they never would never understand how we wanted this to be extremely personal and unique for people. Hotel folks get nervous about things that are different. So we decided to manage it ourselves.”
Last week Mosey had just returned from Washington, D.C., where she participated in the Living Cities Initiative, an organization of the 22 largest foundations and banks in the world. Living Cites selected Midtown Detroit as one of five neighborhoods in America to support as part of its Living Cities Integration Initiative.
“Midtown received about $22 million in capital and grants for our corridor.” Mosey said. “It’s helping us move forward on a lot of real estate deals and work in a better way with some city departments to benefit the businesses in the neighborhood. Change in Midtown has accelerated in the last five years or so.”
No visit here would be complete without a stop at the great People’s Records vinyl store (4100 Woodward Dr., 313-831-0864), relocated to Midtown, and just next to the Magic Stick and Majestic Theater (4140 Woodward Ave., 313-833-9700; www.majesticdetroit.com), the city’s top live music venue. People’s has a great selection of ’60s and ’70s soul music and I always find some Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield stuff to round out my collection.
Sometimes I have a hard time promoting Detroit in Chicago.
Land is affordable in Detroit; The Economist recently suggested in a story titled “The parable of Detroit: So cheap, there’s hope.”
So what is it like for Mosey to hit the road and promote Detroit?
“Nationally the perception has gotten better about the core of the city,” she said. “There has been a lot of investment. One of the challenges of Detroit is that spacially we’re so huge. We don’t have the benefit of a lot of big assets all sitting next to each other. There’s Midtown. Downtown. The waterfront. It’s a challenging city for travelers to navigate. But if you can plan in advance and figure out the places you want to go it has a tremendous amount of interesting assets.”
The Inn On Ferry Street is a very good place to start.