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Doorman tips hat to renewal

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TOM WALSH: Doorman tips hat to renewal

Refurbished Guardian Building adds a touch of elegance

August 26, 2004

BY TOM WALSH

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

Christopher Roddy was resplendent in his new uniform Wednesday morning, befitting his new role as the doorman-greeter-concierge at the magnificent, refurbished Guardian Building in downtown Detroit.

Roddy sported a knee-length black coat with gold braiding over the right shoulder, a red-and-black vest, white shirt, red bowtie and black trousers and shoes.

He was having trouble, though, deciding which hat to wear.

Did the billed cap look better? Or the stately black top hat?

Either way, he makes a grand first impression upon visitors to one of the grandest of Detroit's historic buildings. The 40-story Guardian was built in 1929 as a bank headquarters. It was owned and occupied during the 1980s and '90s by Michigan Consolidated Gas Co., which kept the spectacular six-story, vaulted mezzanine-level hall mostly hidden from public access. After MichCon was acquired by DTE Energy, the Guardian office building was purchased last fall by Detroit-based Sterling Group, which is spending more than $1 million to restore the building's luster and reopen the mezzanine level to the public with a Standard Federal bank branch, a cafe and several retail shops.

A grand reopening event was planned for this week but postponed when renovation work on the travertine marble floor took longer than expected.

Roddy got his new uniform anyway. And next week, Andy's Sundries will likely become the first of the retailers to open inside the Guardian. Andy's general manager, Paul Kado, said he hopes to open the convenience store Wednesday or Thursday. The following week, after Labor Day, look for a new Pure Detroit store to open there, selling Pewabic pottery and other Detroit-themed merchandise. Sterling Group has leased about 38 percent of the building's office space, up from 6 percent last fall.

Roddy, 47, is a quintessential Detroit character. He was born in Alabama and moved to Detroit when he was 8 years old. Family members worked for Chrysler Corp. and General Motors Corp. Roddy attended Detroit Kettering High School and Shaw College, worked for Detroit Steel until it closed, then worked at other local steel plants. He was working in security at the Buhl Building when he heard the Guardian Building's new owner was looking for a greeter.

"They said the job was for a greeter, initially, but I could see it would be more than that," Roddy says.

"It's more like a concierge. I'm attentive to the visitors and patrons. I like to show tourists around and tell them some of the building's history. People come out of there amazed."

He'll also call taxis or find umbrellas for folks when a sudden storm rolls in.

Roddy started working at the Guardian three months ago and he's already a fixture to tenants in the building and to others in the neighborhood.

Aside from Roddy and a white-gloved doorman at the Julian Scott apparel store nearby, that kind of service is a rarity in Detroit's downtown business district.

And it's a welcome and refreshing surprise, in a city where expectations had sunk so low that we got excited when the city put all those green trash receptacles on downtown sidewalks in 2002.

Contact TOM WALSH at 313-223-4430 or [email protected]

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