Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Film Exchange Building

This seven-story building was built at the corner of Cass and Montcalm in 1926 for the distribution and booking of movies for the Detroit area. It was erected near Grand Circus Park, then the city's theater district, having been home to the Fox, State, Capitol, Adams and Madison theaters, among others.

The 84,000-square-foot building featured fireproof vaults for the nitrate films for all its tenants, and detailing such as a sculpture above the main Cass Avenue entrance, a lobby in Travertine marble and brass elevator doors.

The building was mainly occupied by unions by 1964, around the time the occupancy rates began to fall. The building closed in the mid-1970s.

Around 2000, the roof was replaced, and the building received new windows. During March and April 2005, the facade of the building was painted, and broken windows boarded up with black plywood. In late summer 2009, the building was unfortunately painted a bright white.

The owner, however, had no plans for the building other than maintaining his investment and waiting for the right time to sell. He did an adequate job of keeping the building sealed from the elements and vandals.

In 2014, the building was sold for $1.92 million to Detroit-based real estate company The Sterling Group through an affiliated entity called 2310 Associates LLC. The move seemed to try to capitalized on the Ilitch family's plans for a neighborhood called The District Detroit, which was to feature residential, office space and retail. It was auctioned in 2017, but found no takers. Seven years later, in 2021, that vision for the District had failed to become a reality, however, The Sterling Group's investment would still pay off handsomely.

That's when a mystery buyer forked over $8.75 million for it and its accompanying parking lot.

The reason? In July 2021, billionaires Stephen Ross and Dan Gilbert announced that they were pulling the plug on building a $300 million Innovation Center on Gratiot Avenue near I-375. Attention immediately shifted to the surplus of vacant land in Olympia Development's slow-to-develop District Detroit.

The Film Exchange was sold just ahead of that announcement, in May 2021, to an entity named 2310 Cass LLC, which listed a UPS Store in Sterling Heights as its address. A month later, a nearby building that was home to Bookie's bar and restaurant, was sold to a 2208 Cass LLC. That LLC's address was also at a UPS Store, this one in the Downriver suburb of Brownstown Township.

"Registering LLCs at P.O. boxes in random Detroit suburbs has been used by the Ilitches before," Crain's Detroit Business reported. "The District Detroit area ... has not materialized as promised when it was unveiled seven years ago. If the Ilitches are, in fact, the buyers of Bookie's and the Film Exchange Building, it would add to their massive portfolio of real estate north of downtown — but also put the buildings' futures in limbo."

Meaning, whether the building will be redeveloped or demolished for parking or a potential Ross-U-M development remains unknown.