Thursday 29th April 1982
Henry Ford II sold the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan, US. Conceived by Henry Ford II and financed primarily by the Ford Motor Company, the Renaissance Center became the world’s largest private development with an anticipated 1971 cost of $500 million. The project was intended to revitalize the economy of Detroit. In its first year of operation it generated over $1 billion in economic growth for the downtown.
In 1970, Ford Motor Company Chairman Henry Ford II teamed up with other business leaders to form Detroit Renaissance, a private non-profit development organization, which he headed in order to stimulate building activity in the city. The group announced the first phase of construction in 1971. In addition, Detroit Renaissance contributed to a variety of other projects within the downtown area in the ensuing decades. Henry Ford II sold the concept of the RenCen to the City and community leaders. Detroit Mayor Roman Gribbs touted the project as a complete rebuilding from bridge to bridge, referring to the area between the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario and the MacArthur Bridge, which connects the city with Belle Isle Park.
The city within a city arose. The first phase of Renaissance Center opened on July 1, 1976. Principal architect John Portman was also the architect for the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel and the Peachtree Center in Atlanta, Georgia; the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, California; and the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, California. For phase I, the facade of the first five towers was covered with 2,000,000 square feet (186,000 m2) of glass, and used about 400,000 cubic yards (310,000 m3) of concrete. This did not include the additional glass used for the atriums.
Phase I of the Renaissance Center cost $337 million to construct, employing 7,000 workers. In 1977, the central hotel tower of the Renaissance Center opened as the Detroit Plaza Hotel, managed by Western International Hotels, to become the world’s tallest all-hotel skyscraper surpassing its architectural twin, the Peachtree Plaza Hotel in Atlanta. The hotel was later renamed The Westin Hotel Renaissance Center Detroit. In 1986, it was surpassed in height by The Westin Stamford in Singapore. Since 1986, the Renaissance Center’s central tower has held the distinction as the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere.Other phases that included residences, additional office and retail space were never constructed.
On April 15, 1977, Henry Ford II and Detroit mayor Coleman Young unveiled a plaque commemorating the private investors whose funds made the project possible and, later that evening, 650 business and society leaders attended a benefit celebrating the Renaissance Center’s formal dedication. The money raised from the $300-per-couple tickets went to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. When it opened, the cylindrical central tower was originally the flagship of Westin Hotels. The top three floors of the hotel hosted an upscale restaurant, The Summit, that rotated to allow a 360 degree view. The shopping center in the podium originally housed high-end boutiques, but now contains a greater complement of restaurants in the retail mix.
In 1980, Detroit hosted the Republican National Convention and presidential nominee Ronald Reagan and former President Gerald Ford both stayed at the Renaissance Center while in attendance.
Metro Detroit expanded upon the city within a city concept with the nearby 2,200,000 square feet (200,000 m2) Southfield Town Center office complex with its five inter-connected golden skyscrapers constructed from 1975 to 1989. In the ensuing years, the Renaissance Center would face competition from the growing suburban office market.
In 1987, the elevated Detroit People Mover transit line, after many years of construction, began operation with a stop at the Renaissance Center. Initially, Ford Motor Company occupied a large block of space. In 1996, General Motors purchased the complex and moved its world headquarters to the Renaissance Center downtown from what is now the historic Cadillac Place state office complex in the New Center district, northwest of downtown. Before the acquisition, Sibley’s Shoes had its headquarters in the center.
Architects’ initial design for the Renaissance Center focused on creating secure interior spaces, while its design later expanded and improved to connect with the exterior spaces and waterfront through a reconfigured interior, open glass entryways, and a Wintergarden. By 2004, GM completed an extensive $500 million renovation of the Renaissance Center. This included a $100 million makeover for the hotel. Among GM’s first actions was to remove the concrete berms facing Jefferson Avenue. The renovation includes a lighted glass walkway which encircles the interior mezzanine for ease of navigation, while the addition of the Wintergarden provides riverfront access and a view of Canada. A covered skyway over Jefferson Avenue connects to the Millender Center, Courtyard by Marriott – Downtown Detroit, and Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.
The Renaissance Center is owned by General Motors. The hotel in the central tower is now managed by the Marriott hotel chain and is called the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. The 1,298-room hotel is one of the largest operated by Marriott. The rooftop restaurant (which no longer revolves) received a $10 million renovation and is operated by The Epicurean Groups’s Coach Insignia. It serves Coach wines, a product of the Fisher family whose legacy includes Fisher Body, a name which is part of GM history.
The Renaissance Center’s renovation provides for the prospect of continued development and restorations throughout the city. Architectural critics have touted the city’s architecture as among America’s finest.
In July 2010, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan announced plans to lease 435,245 square feet (40,435.6 m2) of Tower 500 and Tower 600 and relocate 3,000 of its employees from its building in Southfield, Michigan.
In January 2015, General Motors announced its intent to renovate much of the complex, including GM World and the street-level exterior, to make it more inviting as a destination for visitors to Detroit.