When Julio Bateau, managing partner of Nailah, LLC speaks about his city-based company’s portfolio of restoration and new development projects in Midtown Detroit, he expresses himself in a modest manner. In many ways, Bateau wants his company’s projects to just speak for themselves. While Bateau and his low key demeanor is respected, there’s no way to look past the grandeur and splendor of what he and his company have accomplished.
Long before the words restoration and preservation were major parts of the lexicon to describe the now resurging Midtown Detroit, Bateau, three-plus decades ago, was busy renovating and preserving big and storied houses in Midtown’s Historic Art Center District. Many of the houses were built in the mid-1880s, and were owned and occupied by some of Detroit’s most affluent citizens, such as J.H. Hudson, who started Hudson Department Store in downtown Detroit in 1881. The Hudson family’s home, located in the 400 block of East Ferry, was built in the late-1880s. The home is now the office of Bateau and Nailah, LLC.
“I completely restored this house, and the one next door, where J.L. Hudson’s in-laws lived,” said Bateau during a recent interview at his Nailah office. “I eventually restored this entire block to stabilize the neighborhood. From there, I went block-to-block restoring homes to their original grandeur of what they were more than 100 years ago. We have also done new construction of houses on Ferry to match how houses on the street looked over a 100 years ago. ”
Nailah, under the purview of Bateau, is currently building Arts Center Row Houses, a 58-unit development that will have one and two bedrooms. The price tag for the development is $10 million. Located on East Ferry St, bordered by Chrysler (I-75) Service Drive and East Kirby, Bateau expects the affordable units to be completed in July. Interestingly, one parcel of the new development, according to Bateau, has an address of the famous, but now gone, Hasting St.
“We wanted to start development in 2008, but the economy collapsed,” explained Bateau. “So we began construction last year. When completed, the units will be affordable. They will be for leased, not for sale.”
Bateau said his decision to focus on restoration/development in the Historic Art Center District was simple.
“If this city was to come back, and I had faith that it would, the comeback would begin in the cultural center, which is the heart of Detroit,” said Bateau. “It was always mind-boggling to me why people would abandon the heart of the city. This area is home to so many great cultural and educational institutions. Within walking distant from Nailah development projects are the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Main Library, Wayne State University, Center for Creative Studies, and others.”
Bateau touted the long partnership he has enjoyed with Midtown Detroit, Inc., and its president Sue Mosey, both of which have been instrumental in supporting his vision as an urban developers and builders.
“Sue brings a lot to the table, such as energy, money and creditability,” said Bateau. “And, she highly respected as a major builder in Midtown Detroit. She and Midtown Detroit, Inc. have been strong pillars in support of this company and this area.”
While Bateau has a great love for Detroit, his journey to the Motor City began thousands of miles away. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Bateau, in his early teens, moved with his parents to Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from high school, Bateau attended State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering and applied math. He subsequently received a master’s degree in structural engineering from George Washington University. After working around the country as a structural engineer, Bateau accepted a job offer from General Motors in the late 1970s to move to Detroit as an engineer for the giant automaker.
“As I was looking for a place where I could make a difference, Detroit was the logical place,” explained Bateau. “Detroit was the only major city in the country that had a huge black representation, in terms of government and business. There was also a very strong black middleclass here.”
Ultimately, Bateau left General Motors to start Nailah, LLC.
“I took a giant leap of faith,” he said. “It was about a dream at first, which was a vision that no one else could see. Sue Mosey and Midtown Detroit, Inc. shared the vision and dream. We figured if the city was going to bounce back, the Historic Art Center District had to be the starting point.”
Bateau is proud of what Nailah has accomplished. However, his most gratifying projects to date are not in Detroit, but in Haiti. According to Bateau, he spent two years rebuilding Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed an estimated 260,000-plus people, and significantly destroyed much the country’s infrastructure.
“I flew to Haiti about two days after the earthquake to help rebuild and clean up,” he recalled. “It was a life shaping experience for me to be there for two years.”
Returning from Haiti with a new perspective on life, Bateau continued to restore and develop affordable housing for Detroiters. He views affordable housing, similarly to how he looks at affordable health care: both are rights that all people should have.
Asked about future endeavors once the Arts Center Row Houses are completed, Bateau said.
“I have one more rodeo, “Bateau said with a laugh. “I don’t know if I should talk about it right now, but it will be one of the most exciting projects that I’ve done. It will be right around the corner from the Charles H. Wright Museum. This will definitely be my last project. I will still be around; I just won’t be doing this anymore.”