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Detroit officials are in 'brainstorming mode' on Renaissance Center's future

Luke Ramseth, The Detroit News on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Dan Gilbert said he and other business and government leaders are still in "brainstorming mode" for what to do with downtown Detroit's Renaissance Center, the General Motors Co. global headquarters that the automaker will vacate next year.

"I couldn't tell you the actual specific uses, but I will tell you that the mayor, and the city government, as well as General Motors, ourselves and the county — everybody's interested in making sure that that waterfront is redeveloped in a beautiful way, if it is redeveloped," Gilbert, the real estate mogul and the Rocket Companies Inc. founder, said Wednesday at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference.

"Maybe part of it is converted to some other use," he added. "But I think that everybody is interested in keeping some very exciting, and promising, development on that property."

GM is preparing to leave its longtime RenCen home for a smaller corporate footprint at downtown's Hudson's Detroit development, a Gilbert-led project under his Bedrock development firm. As part of the move, GM, Bedrock, and the city are evaluating what's best for the future of the 48-year-old RenCen.

GM CEO Mary Barra also addressed the RenCen in an appearance last week before the Detroit Economic Club.

"We're committed to doing the right thing. It's such prime real estate, when you look at it, and the views are spectacular, so I'm sure we're going to come up with a good solution," Barra said. When asked if demolition of the RenCen is under consideration, Barra said: "... we're first looking at what can be done and what would be the appropriate use ... We've got a year to do that, so that's where we're focused."

In addition to speaking about the RenCen's future at the Mackinac conference, Gilbert also discussed his concerns about young and talented college graduates leaving the state.

"We've got to keep our kids here. That is the number one thing we've got to do," he said. "What a shame this is, billions of dollars of tax money, state tax money, subsidizing tuition for tens of thousands of students in public universities," he added. "And we hand over this talent, basically, to New York, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Miami: 'Here you go, take all of our talent. We paid for it, take it, have them work for you, have their taxes go to your cities and state.'"

 

The executive told an audience of business leaders and policymakers that there are several ways they should go about ensuring more young people stay, and that more can be drawn to live and work here.

They include providing adequate affordable housing, ensuring that a thriving nightlife scene takes shape, improving the state's transportation system, and maintaining a robust startup company ecosystem. He lamented that Michigan had only slightly grown in population from 2000 to 2020, when many other states expanded dramatically.

"We need all the nightlife we can get," Gilbert said, noting that a thriving bar and restaurant scene "is one of their boxes" that young people want checked when they consider living somewhere. Detroit is "hot" right now, he said, but there is more space for restaurants and bars to be added.

He didn't specify exactly what type of transportation system should be built out, just that more of it was needed — from the suburbs to downtown, from Detroit to the airport, to Ann Arbor, and possibly to Chicago.

"If you look at any big city, or any big metropolitan area, who doesn't have some kind of regional transportation efforts going on, or completed efforts? And we were one of the few ... that doesn't, which is another reason we have to think bigger," Gilbert said.

He urged state lawmakers to work across the aisle to create more long-term economic development packages that can attract and grow new business in the states.

"We've got to stop doing the short-term, year-to-year stuff that doesn't work," Gilbert said of the Legislature. "We have to make long-term investments. As I said before, look at all the (recent) investments that have been made. I don't think that Ford Motor Company is doing that whole deal with the train station for the next year or two. They're doing it for the next 30 years. I mean, we're not doing the Hudson's project because we expect to make profit on it next year. In fact, it'll be lucky if there's a profit in 30 years."


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