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The engine finally gets revved up in Motor City


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TOM WALSH: The engine finally gets revved up in Motor City

Projects will come to life as revival nears

November 9, 2004



Beyond the backhoes, the rubble of ripped-up streets and orange-barrel blockades, believe it or not, Detroit's downtown makeover is finally taking shape as several dramatic new projects near completion.

First came all the talk of grandiose plans and the attendant skepticism. This is Detroit, after all.

Then came construction, noise, dust, traffic detours, more skepticism. (Will this stuff ever get done?)

Now come the parties.

Wednesday night, 1,000 people are invited to join Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and a jazz quartet to celebrate the renovation and return of the Guardian Building's spectacular vaulted mezzanine to public space.

Nine days later, on Nov. 19, Campus Martius Park -- the thing that's been a big hole surrounded by a fence on Woodward Avenue in front of the Compuware Corp. headquarters for the past year -- will stage its grand opening. Construction crews are still swarming the site, but we are promised ice-skating demonstrations, music and the lighting of Detroit's holiday tree 10 days hence.

Later this month, look for removal of barricades and the opening of the plaza and promenade along the Detroit riverfront behind General Motors Corp.'s Renaissance Center headquarters.

In January, just before the North American International Auto Show, the GM Pavilion will debut as the Jefferson Avenue lobby of the GM RenCen complex is reopened to public access.

Even the People Mover station at the RenCen is supposed to reopen soon. (OK, I'll believe that when I see it).

Add in two big residential loft projects coming onstream, Merchants Row near Compuware and the Kales Building conversion at Grand Circus Park, and all this downtown activity starts to look like -- dare I say it -- revival.

Pinch me, please, but most of this stuff looks spectacular. Even more encouraging, private investments or foundations -- as opposed to tax dollars -- are backing most of the activity.

Take for example the 40-story Guardian Building, a 75-year-old architectural icon on Griswold between and Congress and Larned that the Sterling Group purchased last fall.

Originally a bank building, the Guardian was home to Michigan Consolidated Gas in recent decades, until MichCon vacated the building after merging with DTE Energy.

When Sterling bought the building, it was 6-percent occupied. Now, after spending more than $1 million on renovations and reopening the magnificent mezzanine to public traffic as a retail promenade, Sterling has pushed occupancy past 40 percent. The only government incentive was a federal historic tax credit.

A Standard Federal Bank branch opened in the Guardian's mezzanine area last month, joining Andy's Sundries and Pure Detroit in the retail space.

A distinctive gift shop, Becca Belle, will open briefly for Wednesday's soiree, says owner Julie Halpern. She'll open for good a week or two later, after one final purchasing trip to New York for a few more specialty items.

The unusual 1,250-square-foot Pure Detroit space includes a Pewabic Pottery display and a section called Motor City Sweets and Treats, featuring Detroit-area foods and displaying the original signs from the Vernor's ginger ale plant in Detroit.

Pure Detroit owner Shawn Santo, rather than abandoning her nearby store to move into the Guardian, instead converted her 156 W. Congress storefront to the Pure Detroit: Design Lab, which features the work of 25 Detroit-area fashion designers.

Another indicator of Santo's confidence in Detroit's momentum: She'll soon open a Pure Detroit GM Collection store in the RenCen. Look for apparel created just for GM. You always wanted some Hummer-logo tennis shoes or a Corvette-branded fragrance, right?

Inside the Compuware building, where the Hard Rock Cafe is jammed every noon and night, Heritage Optical has joined Borders bookstore and other retailers. Heritage is hosting an opening party for its store Nov. 17.

Au Bon Pain, a Boston-based urban cafe, is also expected to open this month in Campus Martius.

Leave it to Detroit to take the wraps off all this cool stuff just as winter weather arrives.

But don't mind the chill, just bundle up and check it out. Something's happening here.

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

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Good article.

So who else is planning on going down to the C-Mart opening on the 19th? I was down there over the weekend and it coming along nicely!

Here is an updating picture from a camera on Compuware


I went up to top of the Ren Cen over the weekend too, and the glass elevators allowed me to finally get a good view of the river front work they did behind the ren cen. They have done a really nice job on it and to me it looked done. I can't wait to finally check it out. If anyone wants some details about Coach Insignia, or pictures, let me know. You can just go to bar up there (prices are not too high) and enjoy the view. They don't card you to get in the elevator, so don't worry too much:) The downside is that the floor is open to the restaurant below so you can't go up to the windows.

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It's stunning and a bit scary that the Guardian Building was down to 6% capacity at one point! Good to see an unbelieveable icon back on the upswing. As for the other projects, it's a pretty exciting time and I can't wait to get downtown again to check it all out.

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I will definately be down there for the opening of the park. I get out of class at 1:50, so I should be down there by 2:15 at the absolute latest. Thank goodness the southbound Lodge is open again! Now if they would just finish up with the northbound lanes....

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I'm sure the economic impact of a park like the Campus Martius park will be quite positive...people want to work and relocate to nice, progressive areas. It will be good for the city's image and (a future incentive for employers and people to relocate to downtown) to have a focal point like this.

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Being downtown for the last 18 months and watching the Campus Martius be built from the ground up, I can tell you that we are all very excited to have this park in our neighborhood. This park will be a wonderful asset to everyone who works down here. No doubt about it, it WILL attract more businesses down here. Hopefully it will be K-Mart next located at the old Hudson's site.

Below are pics of the construction at Campus Martius I took over the past year. Enjoy.

- BR




The copper torch that will be visable from a distance at night along Woodward Ave.


Installation of the light fixtures around the ice rink.


Testing the new fountain. It shoots water beyond the 8th floor of our building!!!


This photo was taken today at 2pm. Note the grill on top of the fountain that will support the stage for the HUGE Christmas tree that will be delivered any day now.


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Nice photos, Brother Ray. You've been lucky enough to be able to watch the transformation of the park from your vantage point over the last year.

Is that the tree I see on the flatbed truck down on the loop? If so, that is a large Christmas tree - probably about 50 feet tall.

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Is that the tree I see on the flatbed truck down on the loop?  If so, that is a large Christmas tree - probably about 50 feet tall.


Yes, that is the tree. We were told it would be big. They are also using the crain to install a very large pump sitting on another flatbed truck. I have absolutely no idea where it will go.

I'll keep you posted and will try to add a photo or two tonight.

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Yes, that is the tree.  We were told it would be big.  They are also using the crain to install a very large pump sitting on another flatbed truck. I have absolutely no idea where it will go. 

I'll keep you posted and will try to add a photo or two tonight.


look at the webcam!

The rink is lit up purple!

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