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Chrysler and downtown Detroit

Automaker opening up office in 'Chrysler House,' which is former Dime Building

DETROIT – The beat thumps heavily, you feel it swell as the Selective God Choir's gorgeously layered harmony kicks in and there you are in the middle of the globally famous Chrysler Super Bowl ad. But this isn't a desktop YouTube moment; it came alive inside Detroit's Dime building today.

The group gave the crowd goose bumps as it belted out its contribution Eminem's "Lose Yourself" as an introduction to a very special ceremony. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne announced he would move 70 staffers into the upper two floors of the century old building. He too will have office space here. The real surprise came when Marchionne said as part of the first ever Chrysler executive presence in Downtown Detroit, the Dime Building will change its name to Chrysler House. So now we have The Glass House in Dearborn [Ford], the Chrysler House in downtown Detroit to go along with GM's house just blocks away inside the Ren Cen. This is more than merely symbolic; this is the spark that could light a greater expansion of downtown Detroit in the traditional mold of major cities. This has been a longtime dream on the cusp of reality.

 

The old Dime Bank building was designed by famed Chicago Neo-classical architect Daniel Burnham. It is one of Detroit's hidden gems. If you have not been inside in a while it is beautifully remodeled; its ornate ceilings and pillars rehabbed over the past decade. Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert bought the place last year and is nearly at 100 percent capacity. Remarkable about this announcement is the fact Chrysler did not start here. It was looking at other office space. Gilbert admitted when his real estate team heard about Chrysler's search they immediately went to work trying to attract Chrysler's business. Gilbert himself was speaking a few months ago at Chrysler's Auburn Hills Headquarters and asked for a meeting with Marchionne. He got one and it didn't take long for them to come to terms.

There can be no doubt Marchionne's desire to bring employees out of the jam packed Auburn Hills Tech Center and the other office space he's renting out there is meant to be seen as bold a statement as the highly unorthodox, two-minute plus, Super Bowl ad of 2010.

He said ,"We owe a lot to the City of Detroit … We are pleased that after 87 years after the founding of Chrysler we are writing a new chapter in our relationship with the City of Detroit. Now we know fully well we can't fix Detroit along but we do want to be a contributor."

Downtown Detroit has been in a holding pattern we have become so acutely are aware of over the past decade. We've existed in a form of is suspended animation where Detroit's rebirth has existed largely as it was at least five years ago when Compuware opened its downtown headquarters. Yes Campus Martius came to life, we skate in the winter and enjoy fountains in the summer, we've watched movies shot in the neighborhood, and we've even seen a few construction vehicles in the area over time.

Then, ever so slowly the signs went up, GalaxeSolutions moved its IT team into town, unusual shops opened like a cupcake factory and as Gilbert has filled Chrysler House with tenants, the downtown is starting to take larger shape. With Chrysler's offices here all of a sudden there appears to be some real momentum behind the movement. The seeds of a real renaissance seem to be taking root. It is what Detroit needs to bounce back.

New, young, fresh faces are showing up downtown in varied, modern industries, bringing tax dollars into the city; perhaps even moving into those loft apartments they've been building for about a decade. It's sort of like in Washington when they say a billion here and a billion there and soon you're talking about real money. Well in Detroit, 70 employees here, 100 there and before you know it you have a rebirth under way.

Now to be frank, we've seen this movie before. Dennis Archer had momentum going downtown as he left office, his successor [do we really need to use his name?] tried to pick up the mantle and made some limited progress but then a year in prison and the auto and mortgage meltdown of 2009 brought the whole deal to a grinding halt. And all the while Downtown Detroit was getting nurtured into a better form there were cries in the neighborhoods they were getting nothing, not even scraps. Sadly, it's likely that will continue for a while. But there is great reason to be encouraged in this newer iteration of redevelopment.

There is new blood and energy.

Dan Gilbert is a tireless businessman who for better or for worse [yes he loaned what's-his-name money to get out of town] genuinely wants to get that momentum going. He, like Mike Ilitch before him, is putting his money where his mouth is.

So let's savor the seedlings growing and hope that our children get to enjoy the mighty oaks that grow from such small acorns.

Perhaps, today is a new and better day ... the day Chrysler moved downtown.

 


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