The board of a nondenominational Detroit seminary in a historic downtown property didn't know what it would find when it listed its two-acre site for sale in the spring.
But the location along the Woodward corridor, its leaders thought, had to be promising in a real estate market that's seen prices skyrocket and buildable land become a rarity.
They were right. Thirty-two offers later, the deal closed in late September.
And as a result, now the University of Michigan Credit Union will be a part of the rapidly changing Midtown district.
It purchased the site along Woodward at Edmund, located blocks from both Little Caesars arena and the housing boom that touches most corners of both Midtown and Brush Park.
Next up will be construction of the new branch, according to the seller. While UMCU officials were not available to discuss their purchase, they provided a statement that cited existing customers and the potential to grow the brand in Detroit as among their goals.
"The Detroit branch will provide UMCU an opportunity to serve its existing members and expand its brand awareness and financial services to the Detroit community," according to a news release from UMCU.
The Ann Arbor-based credit union is expected to build the branch in a portion of the property that is now a parking lot, said Ron Wagner, president of the Ecumenical Theological Seminary board of directors.
"We don't know if it will be four or five stories," Wagner said.
But the most important part of the deal, he added, is the partnership: "They want us to remain on the site. They're going to allow us to use their office space, conference space and classrooms to advance our graduate theological education."
ETS listed the property in May for $4.85 million.
"It's the largest property between downtown and Midtown that hasn't otherwise been claimed for development yet," the Rev. Dr. Stephen Butler Murray, then president of the school, said at the time. "It makes sense that we can ask for that kind of price, given what we've seen other properties sell for."
The reason for the sale was financial pressure to maintain the two-acre property, which includes the historic First Presbyterian Church building, the parking lot and an office building. After the church closed, it gave the property to the seminary.
Owning the building was a gift, but it also stretched the seminary's resources from its educational purposes. Selling it would relieve some pressure, but create another problem: Where to move next.
Wagner said interest in the site was substantial, with 32 parties approaching the seminary with their vision and offers.
Only one said that the seminary could remain in its offices and use its new facility.
"Some were planning to convert the property into some sort of office space or residential space, but there was no long-term space for (us)," Wagner said.
While he wouldn't disclose the selling price, he did sale the offer from UMCU was "much more interesting" than others.
"From the standpoint of the seminary, we couldn't have asked for a better purchaser of this property," Wagner said.
The deal allows UMCU to move closer to many of its customers, which are students, graduates and employees of the University of Michigan.
It also will boost U-M-related presence in Detroit, where the university operates a Detroit Center on Woodward and increasingly is creating partnerships in the city among its various schools. It offers a semester in Detroit for students, too.
UMCU has more than 80,000 members and over $700 million in assets. It now has seven offices in Ann Arbor, two branches in Ypsilanti, a branch in Dearborn and three branches in Flint.
ETS, meanwhile, provides graduate level theological training for at least 30 denominations in Metro Detroit. This deal allows it to use its network of pastors in the region to consider how it, too, can perform more outreach in the city.
"If we could have scripted the ideal purchaser, it would have fit every one of the points the credit union (provided)," Wagner said.
"It was a gift from heaven."
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