Don't Reject, Resurrect
Every city and suburb has one – some more than others; a beautiful, old building that was once a crown jewel of the community, sitting there empty and useless, good for only groans of "they should do something with that."
In Redford Township, they have.
The township's gorgeous old library building - built in the late-‘50s and later rendered irrelevant in 2004 when a new, more functional one was built a few miles to the north - sat empty for years. It grew stale, the utilities were shut off and when the building's future came up, the city's leaders discussed tearing it down.
Community organizations and individuals grew a persistent opposition to demolition, imploring township officials to spare the building. But since township couldn’t afford to spend roughly $1 million to renovate a cold dinosaur of a building, there's only one option: community bond approval. The bond's eventual passage meant architectural resurrection of the beloved structure, and a re-imagining of the building as a central meeting place in the community.
Community Development Director Mike Dennis, and former township Supervisor Miles Handy - along with other elected officials, volunteers and community members - laid out plans to convert the 5,000-square-foot, round brick library building into an open-air market, called The Marquee.
"We took out much of the interior, old windows and doorways to really open up the inside to the outside," he said.
It took a ton of work, including a complete refurbishment of the concrete floor - buffed repeatedly for weeks to bring out the natural stone composition in the material; the result being a finish resembling marble.
After stripping the building down to a shell, Dennis said fixed wrought iron fencing was installed where windows, doors and some walls once stood. The stunning woodwork, with majestic wooden ceiling beams fanning out above the interior, were expertly redone.
The old library building was originally round, with a square addition installed decades after it was built. That addition was removed and replaced with a small amphitheater. And while most original fixtures were retained, new lighting and landscaping were added.
When the renovation was finished, downtown Redford Township had a new, tricked-out, open-air facility that has become the perfect location for a farmers market, art festivals, live music, community gatherings, holiday festivals and everything Redford needs to meet, gather and grow together.
"Sometimes people will just show up and picnic," Dennis said. "People love it. They can gather and say hello. It's what Redford needed. Taking this old building and giving it new life."
Part of that new life includes The Market at The Marquee, a farmers market running every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., June through October. The market also features live music and cooking demonstrations.
Dennis said the DDA has been overseeing operations here since The Marquee opened in August, 2008. It has seen everything from Santa Claus in December to steins of frothy beer in October. It houses children's events, teen nights, a garage sale and crafts show, and is also being leased for private events like grad parties and even special events put on by local nonprofits.
For the last four years, the Redford Parks and Art Conservancy has been holding the Redford IART Festival at The Marquee. It's an art fest that draws upwards of 50 artists, and includes two performance stages, countless kids activities, a craft beer tent and a wealth of other goodies.
Julianne Bjarnesen is one the many volunteers and organizers working with the Conservancy to make the event - held annually the third weekend in July - as distinct as the people who call Redford home. She has lived in Redford for nearly 30 years and says converting the old, lifeless library building to a wonderful epicenter of a proud community seemed natural.
"The old library was such a beautiful, unique building that, even abandoned, it was part of downtown Redford," she said. "Tearing it down was not an option. I don't think anyone around here would've let that happen."
John Q. Horn is a freelance writer. His previous story for Metromode was How Building Design Can Reflect A Community's Persona.