DETROIT – The Renaissance Center has dominated Detroit’s skyline since its completion in 1977.
The central tower, which is home to the Detroit Marriott hotel, is 73 stories tall, making it an overwhelmingly prominent structure on the riverfront. After more than 40 years, it’s difficult to picture Detroit without it.
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This WWJ-TV (which later became WDIV) special from Dec. 9, 1973 focuses on how the seven-building complex was expected to lead a "renaissance" in Detroit. The word "catalyst" gets used a lot throughout the half-hour documentary.
If you're like me and you love Detroit history, you can imagine my elation when I stumbled upon this in the Local 4 vault. The Renaissance Center construction is before my time, which makes this even more special to me, personally. I missed out on this type of broadcasting. But if you lived through this, I imagine a rush of memories will overtake you.
With soothing narration by Dick Van Sice, "Renaissance Center: A Look at Tomorrow" is a slice of 1970s Detroit like no other. There are special appearances by former Detroit Mayor Roman Gribbs, Detroit Renaissance President Robert McCabe, and more.
“You are about to see Detroit of the future,” Van Sice says. “Destined to make Detroit’s riverfront one of the most talked about landmarks in America, with the practical aim of making Detroit a better place in which to work, to visit and to live. And it will restore to Detroit’s riverfront much of the importance it had when it was young.”
"Detroit of the future" is the theme throughout.
Henry Ford II, who was chairman of Ford Motor Company at the time, is credited with organizing a team of investors to launch this massive project.
"It's being built by the people of Detroit and for the people of Detroit. I'm convinced, and I know many other people are as well, that this will be a catalyst for the renaissance of Detroit," said Ford. "The renaissance has already started, but this will be another great step forward."
The group of investors was known as the "Renaissance Center Partnership," which according to the special was the "largest investment group ever assembled for a privately-financed major redevelopment project." The group was comprised of the following in 1973:
Gribbs, who died this past spring at age 90, lauded the project's "very obvious" solutions to the city's unemployment problem.
“Renaissance Center is an economic and psychological boost for the city that is unparalleled, in my judgment,” said Gribbs. “Just during the construction period we’re looking to have some 2,000 people working at its lowest point, and some 7,000 persons employed during the high point of construction. And after that the jobs that help solve unemployment that will be available through the facilities that are there -- the hotel and the office structures -- are very obvious.”
What happened in Detroit over the next 50 years may not be what these men had planned, but you can't help getting caught up in their enthusiasm -- or can you? The Renaissance Center's construction was far from the start of any kind of Detroit renaissance, yet it did have a huge impact on Downtown, even if that impact was plainly superficial.
BONUS: There are two Eaton commercials in this which are amazing. The one at the 10:30 mark is a clinic on how to sell nostalgia.