Detroit Links 

Scott Campbell
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning
College of Architecture and Urban Planning
University Of Michigan
2000 Bonisteel Blvd.
Ann Arbor MI 48109-2069
office:  3136 A&AB

(734) 763-2077
(734) 763-2322 (fax)
Office Hours

Thursday, September 25, 2003

(Draft version under construction -- additions & corrections welcome via email)


Official Government Sites
City of Detroit (official site)
-- Planning and Development Department
-- Economic Development
-- Renaissance Zones
-- links to other Detroit sites

Non-Profit / Community Organizations
Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce
Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau
Detroit Renaissance (non-profit formed 1970)
Wayne State: College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs
-- Detroit Resources
-- Working Papers on Detroit

Cityscape Detroit
Focus Hope
Detroit Urban League
Museum of African-American History

Detroit History
and early historical maps
The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit
web cam
Panorama of old Detroit
Detroit's Top 100 Economic Developments
"The Road to Renaissance" (Detroit News series, 1997)

Detroit News: index of Detroit history stories
-- Poletownbattle (autoplant vs. neighborhood)

Detroit Free Press: on casinos

Renaissance Center  

Owner: General Motors and their virtual reality tour of RenCen

hotel: Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center (once run by Westin)
original architect:  John Portman & Associates
redesign architect:  Skidmore, Owings and Merrill redesign of hotel
retail Space management for Renaissance and Millender Centers: Taubman Centers Inc.

selected real estate stories
images of RenCen

Articles (Detroit Free Press):
GM to build "wintergarden" for businesses (Friday, May 18, 2001)
map of proposed RenCen road improvement (10/6/98)

Articles (Detroit News):
•• "How the Renaissance Center changed the landscape of Detroit"

"To understand the Renaissance Center, you have to understand the basic situation of Detroit when we started the project.  The first time I went, at the request of Mr. Ford, I stayed at the Pontchartrain Hotel.  I got out of a taxi, and as I was checking in I was told to not walk on the streets.  If I left the hotel, I had to take a taxi to go to a restaurant and when I came out of the restaurant I had to take a taxi back.  This was the circumstance in which we found ourselves."  --  John Portman, quoted in Diamondstein, 1985, p. 217.

"I've been criticized for turning my back on the city and building these great interior spaces, or building a plastic environment so that people don't have to go out to the streets.  That criticism is beyond belief.  It's like saying you shouldn't build these great spaces in a city even of the people enjoy it ... a city is a great and glorious thing.  A city can stand great interior spaces as well as great exterior spaces;  it's an orchestration of all kinds of environments that adds variety and interest and excitement to a city."  John Portman, quoted in Mullen, 1985, p. 180.

Renaissance Center Time Sheet
1967 Detroit riots/civil unrest. 
1970 Detroit Renaissance, a group of business leaders, was founded to help formulate Detroit's future
November 24, 1971 Henry Ford II, head of Detroit Renaissance, Inc., announced plans (to the mayor and city council) for the construction of the largest privately-financed project in the world -- the Renaissance Center.  He also announces selection of the architect John Portman. 
April 25, 1972 The Detroit City Plan Commission unanimously approved the rezoning for the the project.  (though apparently there was some concerned voiced about the the high-rise concept.)   The City Council would then approve the rezoning on May 3, 1972.  (Already there was criticism by others that the project was not the best strategy to revitalize the downtown, and in fact that it would do the opposite.)
May 22, 1973 Ground is broken for the Renaissance Center on Detroit's river front. Under construction is the first of the project's three phases (office space and condos that were to be Phase III were never built), which include a 70-story, 1,500-room hotel (the tallest in the US?) and four 39-story office buildings owned by Ford Motor Land Development Corp.   (on a 32 acre site of river front warehouses, etc.).
1974 Coleman Young elected as first black mayor of Detroit (mayor until 1993), replacing Mayor Roman S. Gibbs (1970-73).
March 15, 1977 Renaissance Center officially opens (designed by Atlanta-based architect John Portman, who also designed Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta, the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, and the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles)
1978 Mayor Young and the city's Downtown development Authority (DDA) invite a team of architects from the study the RenCen.  The resulting  study is critical of RenCen's design features, especially the resulting isolation.  The study was also critical of the city's poor river front planning and its general lack of overall planning. 
1979 Groundbreaking for Phase II. Towers 500 and 600, with each containing 285,000 square feet, will be built.
1981 Phase II opens (two office towers to the east).
1982 City of Detroit statistics measure the population of the CBD in 1982 as 37% lower than the population in 1970 (Mullen, 1985:  184). 
1983 The DDA writes a study (not immediately published) critical of the unusually high vacancy rate (38%) for the retail space in the RenCen, and observes that the RenCen's shops failed to become a successful regional shopping center or even capture a significant share of the local market. (Mullen, 1985:  184). 
1983 Four insurance companies that bankrolled the center's construction -- Equitable Life, Aetna, John Hancock and Travelers -- plus a Ford subsidiary, assume 63 percent (or 53%?) ownership.  (the Center was in default in its mortgage payments for the second time in two years).  (Mullen, 1985:  184). 
1984 American National Resources buys Phase II. Chicago-based Rubloff takes over management of RenCen.
1985 Building gets a multimillion-dollar renovation, including a new Jefferson Avenue entrance, pedestrian walkway and remodeled hotel lobby. 
1987 People Mover begins operation (a small-scale aerial train linking the RenCen, Greektown, and other downtown attractions). 
July 1993 California-based Koll Co. buys Rubloff and assumes control of RenCen management.
May 1996 General Motors Corp. announces it will buy RenCen from Highgate Hotels in Texas (to relocate GM from its Alfred Kahn-designed headquarters -- occupied since 1921 -- a few miles north in the city's New Center area on West Grand Boulevard). Price? $73 million. (original construction cost?  various sources place it at  $337 million or $460 million).  GM will spend $500 million (one source's figure) for renovations. 
Jan. 1998 Ford announces that its Lincoln-Mercury division will move from Detroit's Renaissance Center to Irvine California (to be closer to the California design centers). 
Dec. 1999 GM officially moves from their New Center location into the RenCen.  (last of the remaining GM employees scheduled to move by Oct. 2000).  RenCen will eventually house 7,000 - 8,000 GM workers.  Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (of Chicago) will do the redesign.   Among other changes, the 2-story berms along Jefferson will be removed to create a more "pedestrian-friendly entrance."   also plans for redevelopment of a 25-acre site to the east into River East"
Sept. 2000 GM hires Taubman Centers Inc. to fill the retail space at the Renaissance and Millender Centers
Jan. 2001 scheduled completion of Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center renovation. [confirm date]
December 2001 scheduled opening of new Wintergarden (a set of shops and restaurants / food court at the south end of the RenCen within a 5-story glass atrium, facing south to the Detroit River).
early 2002 scheduled opening of GM Heritage (an interactive display of the automaker's history), and the opening of a new entrance along East Jefferson.  [confirm date]

Sources include:
Detroit News 6/21/00
Detroit Free Press
Rachel B. Mullen.  1985.  "Renaissance Center," in Tod A. Marder (ed.), The Critical Edge:  Controversy in Recent American Architecture.  The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum (Rutgers University) and the MIT Press.  (pp. 175-188).
Barbaralee Diamondstein.  1980.  American Architecture Now.  New York:  Rizzoli.


Two exposures of downtown Detroit (early 20th Century)