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August 14, 1976 - Image 6

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1976-08-14

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Saturday, August 14, 1976

Page Six

Reclaiming Detroit-at last

rO 'RONTO DD it. Pittsburgh
did it. Atlanta's doing it.
Everyone's getting in on it -
urban rejuvenation is the hot-
test act in town, and though the
price tag is high, it is the only
future for America's cities.
Detroit has come to realize
this; and while the city may be
a little late getting started, it
too has ;cauht the reconstruc-
tion fever in fa big way. The
complex upon which all its
hopes and dreams are placed-
the Renaissance Center-is cur-
rentty under construction along
the riverfront in Detroit's down-
town area, where a flour fac-
tory and some old warehouses
once prosided the only view.
And no expense has been
spared. 'the 33-acre ('enter sits
on choice real estate, along Jef-
ferson Avenue in a row of build-
ings that includes ('obo Hall,
Ford Auditorium, and the C'ity-
Conty Bailding ;the site is also
next door to both the tDetroit-
Windsor tunnel and the new
t~odge Fountain.
Phase I- of the Center, when
completed, will include four
office towers of 39 stories each,
with a 70-story hotel in the cen-
ter. These five buildings will

"Renaissance Cen-
ter is a graphic ex-
ample of the rebirth
of downtown
of the project, envisaged an
"exciting, profitable complex of
buildings on our riverfront."
And his words have become the
theme of the entire Renaissance
Center undertaking.
)NLY BY becoming econom-
ically self - sustaining could
the Center achieve what many
see as its real purpose-to bring
people back into the downtown

sense of space-age airiness per-
vades the whole.
Renaissance Center comes at
a time when Detroit badly
needs an uplift. In the early
70's, Detroit became known as
"Murder City" when the annual
homicide toll passed the 800
mark. An article from a maga-
zine of years ago, opening with
a piece about Detroit, quoted a
y o u n g executive as saying,
"What? Me transfer to Detroit?
Murder City? I quit!"
Detroit has been plagued with
a terrible image, a frightening
crime rate, and a decaying cen-
tral city. In this it is not much
different than its sisters in the
population sweepstakes, includ-
ing New York, Chicago (for all
Richard Daley's protests), Los
Angeles and Philadelphia.
But Detroit also has an indus-
trial core, and its factories are
not far from the downtown area,
destroying the aesthetics of
what is in itself not anunat-
tractive place. Compared with
all the aforementioned cities
Detroit has always lost out when
it comes to tourism. The build-
ing of Cobo Hall in the early
60's did much to attract conven-
tion business to the city, but
that particular industry is still
only a tiny part of Detroit's fis-
cal base.
EVERYONi, then, sees Ren-
aissance as both a panacea
to problems and an answer unto
itself. Governor William Milli-
ken has been talking up the
Center to all those who will lis-
ten. In fact, just last month,

Gov. Milliken
rest on a podium that is to in-
clude several stories of shops,
theaters, restaurants, and park-
ing facilities. Though only one
tower is completed now, the
time schedule of construction
calls for finishing the hotel by
spring of 1977 and the last of-
fice buildings by early summer
of the same year.
Henry Ford II, the originator

rHenry corci I1
area, to lure companies back
that had strayed to the subur-
ban offices and industrial areas
of Troy and Southfield.
So Ford aided in the forma-
tion of the Renaissance Center
Partnership, a group of 51 firms
putting up the capital to finance
the construction. In keeping
with the spirit of not making
a public works project out of
the Center, the plan was-and is
-to finance it entirely through
private sources. The National
Bank of Detroit organized a
banking group which has floated
over $27 million in loans. Six
other prominent Detroit banks
are also participating, as well


as financial institutions in Chi-
cago, New York, Philadelphia,
and the West Coast.
I took a walk recently through
the unfinished buildings, and
spoke with John Mayhew, head
of public relations for the Ren-
aissance Center. His office is
on the 36th floor of the north-
west office tower, the only build-
ing currently finished.
Mayhew was courteous and
friendly allowing me to view
various parts of the Center, in-
cluding the famed hotel with its
skylight-covered six-story lobby,
designed by Atlanta architect
John Portman - the man who
designed the Peachtree Center
in Atlanta and San Francisco's
Embareadero. Rising 727 feet,
the hotel will be the world's tall-
est for a short time, until it is
eclipsed by another Portman
hotel in Atlanta, due to be com-
pleted sometime in 1978.
ALL WAS clutter and gray
cement when I viewed it,
yet the architecture has already
revealed an inventiveness which
has characterized the entire pro-
ject. The six-story lobby, for ex-
ample, will contain numerous
"pods" set off for people to
have cocktails or talk in, sus-
pended from the railings of bal-
conies on various floors. There
are staircases projected into
space, and an overwhelming

speaking to the National Gov-
ernors' Conference in Hershey,
Pa., he said, "Renaissance Cen-
ter is a graphic example of the
rebirth of downtown Detroit,
and I urge all the governors to
come to Detroit to see for them-
selves what can be done to give
new life to our central cities
when the 'private and public
leaders of the community are
willing to commit their time,
energy and resources."
The result was that he man-
aged to book the National Gov-
ernors' Conference's April 1977
meeting in the Renaissance Cen-
ter. A press aide in Governor
Milliken's office added, "This
should be just about the first
convention in the new hotel."
Other people are thrilled too.
Mayor Bert Weeks of Windsor,
Ontario - Detroit's sister-city
across the river - has nothing
but praise for the project, and
optimism and delight for what
the Center will do for his own
town. For one thing, the city
of Windsor has been busily re-
juvenating its downtown area
and the Renaissance comes as
a needed boost
Windsor has been slowly but
surely buying up land along the
Detroit River, to increment the
Jeffrey Selbst is the Daily
Arts Editor.

uaily noo by ! L U- &tK
Part of the Renaissance Center

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