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Shops, not GM past, to blossom at RenCen

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General Motors Corp. is expected to complete a renovation of its world headquarters at the Renaissance Center in January.

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Shops, not GM past, to blossom at RenCen

Retailers to fill area initially set aside for heritage center.

By R.J. King / The Detroit News

DETROIT - General Motors Corp., which will complete a six-year, $500-million renovation of its world headquarters at the Renaissance Center in January, plans to add more shops and restaurants there to replace a planned exhibit touting its past, present and future.

GM initially planned to open a heritage center near the RenCen's front entrance along East Jefferson, but the automaker decided there wasn't enough room to accommodate public tours as well as a research library and vehicle displays. The project, called GM Heritage Center, opened earlier this year in a private warehouse in Sterling Heights.

The move turned out to be a blessing for GM, which now can offer more space in the RenCen to merchants and restaurateurs. GM and its office management firm, Houston-based Hines, has hired a national retail leasing firm to fill the remaining 70,000 square feet of commercial space that was left over from the planned heritage center and various construction zones.

Detroit-based Bieri & Associates Inc., which represents such retailers as Gucci, Movado, Mark Shale and Moosejaw, will replace Taubman Centers Inc. in Bloomfield Hills, a large shopping mall developer GM hired four years ago to add stores and eateries at the RenCen.

? Taubman Centers brought more than 30 tenants to the RenCen, including Jos. A. Bank, Brooks Brothers and Casual Corner.

In the coming weeks, several merchants will open at the RenCen, including Pure Detroit, Andiamo's Riverfront Bistro, Rainbow Rascals and a florist shop.

"We are now moving to the second phase of retail leasing as we prepare to open our new front entrance and riverfront plaza," said Matthew P. Cullen, general manager of GM's economic development and enterprise services department. "We're also adding more public events to celebrate our opening, including activities for the North American International Auto Show (at Cobo Center in January)."

By the auto show, GM will unveil a new front entrance that includes a three-story glass vestibule, a half-circle, landscaped drive and a rebuilt People Mover station. It replaces two, large concrete berms that GM razed after buying the office, hotel and retail complex in 1996. The berms, which were part of the RenCen's original design in 1976, were often criticized for being public barricades.

Inside the main entrance, GM has commissioned an artist to create a curved glass wall and other features.

At the rear of the complex, GM is nearing completion of an outdoor plaza overlooking the Detroit River that will feature Italian granite tiles, a fountain, landscaping treatments, lighting and public seating areas.

"The improvements at the RenCen were one of the main considerations why we came here," said Frank Taylor, co-owner of Seldom Blues, a jazz supper club located at the rear of the RenCen that opened in June. "Our business has been beyond our projections." Taylor's partner in Seldom Blues is Detroit Lions defensive end Robert Porcher.

During a visit to the RenCen last week, Emily Watson of Taylor said she still finds it difficult at times to navigate the cavernous space inside. She said a new five-story glass atrium, or wintergarden, that GM added at the rear of the RenCen has improved things.

"You can walk through here now and peek out at the river, and at least you know where you are," Watson said. "Before you didn't know where you were going."

Jim Bieri, president of Bieri & Associates, said he plans to add merchants that will complement the RenCen's current shopping mix.

Retail categories under consideration include clothing, fashion accessories, electronics, jewelry, candy, perfumes and an entertainment venue.

"We're going to be fairly selective with the merchants we bring in," Bieri said. "We're putting a plan together and we'll begin contacting prospective stores shortly. We'll bring new merchants in starting next year."

A fitness center also is in the works for GM's 6,500 workers and 3,500 employees from other companies leasing space at the RenCen.

In January, GM will start work on a seven-story, 1,100-space parking deck east of the complex. The deck, to be completed in early 2006, will offer 18,000 square feet of street-level retail space.

To help tout the RenCen completion, GM will advertise the improvements on billboards and start offering more public events. A Halloween party is planned for Oct. 23, while upcoming holiday promotions also are planned.

"We want people to know that all the construction activity at the front and rear of the RenCen will soon be over," Cullen said. "We also plan to host several events during the auto show to let the national and international media know about our improvements."

You can reach R.J. King at (313) 222-2504 or rjking@detnews.com

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