What does one do when he wants to bring an energizing, modern event space to the Detroit Shoreway? Why, buy a 100-year-old building, of course.
That’s exactly why Jacob Holland and his partners K.C. Stitak, Kyle Lawrence, and John Lawrence did in January of 2019 when they bought the Berger Building, 5400 Detroit Avenue in the Gordon Square Arts District.
“We came together looking to do a venue space,” says Holland. “We spent a year-and-a-half looking for it, and it was hard to find.”
By June 2019 they finally discovered the century-old Berger Building and immediately fell in love. The large, multi-level building originally served as a furniture showroom before most recently serving as the Saigon Plaza Vietnamese Cultural Center.
The makings of Gordon Green event center were soon underway, with the team working on every detail to bring the beautiful interior back to life and create the perfect event center. “The driving force was there was there was not an energizing space on this side of town,” explains Holland of the purchase.
Holland says the somewhat nondescript exterior of the building that, for at least a decade, sat vacant on the corner of Detroit and W. 54th Street is misleading.
“I’ve lived here 10 years and it’s always been vacant—the Cleveland Flea hosted an event once,” says Holland. “It’s a very deceiving building. Then, you walk in and see the vastness of it, the ornateness.”
Holland and his partners acquired the building for $1.34 million from Hawken School in March 2019 and sold a portion of the property to Spice Catering—one of three exclusive caterers for Gordon Green, along with Thyme Catering and Driftwood Catering. Holland says all three conduct their on-site catering out of the full-service kitchen at the facility.
Inside the 20,000-square-foot facility, there is 10,000 square feet of open event space, a private, 4,000-square-foot outdoor courtyard, and private rooms and offices on a lower level that the Gordon Green team will eventually rent out to private tenants.
Jacob HollandThe team uncovered some pleasant surprises in restoring the historic building. “We pulled down the drywall to find two large brick thoroughfare entry arches and windows to the sunken courtyard,” says Holland. “We were able to open it up and use the natural light.”
The main space features 10,000 square feet of original hardwood floors—all refinished—and an ornate white tin ceiling, which was refurbished and installed with new sprinkler and HVAC systems.
The original skylights and panoramic windows bring in natural light and nature, breathing new life into a space that had long been forgotten. The classic beauty of the space has been refreshed and revitalized to fit the style of modern day.
After nearly a year of restoring and updating the facility, Gordon Green was ready to open this past July. But the coronavirus quashed original grand opening plans and forced the team to scramble to accommodate the approximately 30 weddings that had already been scheduled for the summer.
“In early May, that was the big time when our clients did the pilgrimage to 2021,” says Holland, adding that they successfully rescheduled more than 25 weddings for 2021 but were able to host about five events this summer. The team hosted their first socially modified wedding on Sept. 12.
“They were small weddings with no bars, dance floors, or cocktail hours—really to prevent congregating in any specific areas,” he says of the modified events. “Because we have so much space, we are able to follow guidelines, guests wear masks, all servers are masked, and everything is brought to the table.”
Holland says the adjustments have, in fact, proven to be an asset to their guests. “Really what this allowed for was the next level of intimacy in how guests experience weddings,” he says. “They all walked away just as elated as can be. It was pretty cool to watch, and it’s the silver lining during this time.”
Holland says Gordon Green will continue to operate with its COVID-19 precautions in place. He says with 55 additional weddings already booked, he’s hoping for 70 to 80 events through 2022. “Hopefully, it’s going to b a good year,” he says. “There will be an evolution of events right now and we’re giving people more exposure to new ideas.