Downtown Detroit to get 4,700 more workers

August 24, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Quality of life to improve

BY JOHN GALLAGHER
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

After suffering years of depletion and brutal recession, downtown Detroit is about to get an infusion of new people as two firms plan to move a total of 4,700 workers downtown.
The long-awaited move by online mortgage giant Quicken Loans will take place in August, bringing 1,700 workers to the Compuware building.

RenCenstatueAnd an announcement is imminent of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s move of 3,000 workers from its suburban offices to the 500 and 600 towers of the Renaissance Center, a person familiar with the details said Tuesday.

Taken together, the moves mean more employees eating at downtown restaurants, strolling on the RiverWalk, staying late for ballgames and concerts, and taking advantage of downtown amenities from yoga to bird-watching.

“It’s not only great for the city from an economic standpoint but from quality of life,” said Sandra van Meek, director of programming for the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which operates the RiverWalk.

Ann Lang, president of the civic group Downtown Detroit Partnership, echoed that. “It’s a terrific contribution to our vitality and energy,” she said.

Moves could put downtown on a roll

Up until and including Super Bowl XL at Ford Field in 2006, downtown Detroit was on a roll.

New condos and restaurants were opening, Campus Martius Park grew in popularity, and the RiverWalk drew thousands to the waterfront each day.

Then the recession hit. Condo deals collapsed, restaurants closed, the Michigan Opera Theatre cut back its performance schedule, and office vacancy rates soared to near 32% today.

Now, downtown leaders are hoping that an influx of almost 5,000 workers to downtown by online mortgage giant Quicken Loans and insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan will help restore the roar.

Ann Lang, president of the civic group Downtown Detroit Partnership, cheered the news Tuesday.

“Downtown’s best image-building is done by people who work here and live here and become ambassadors,” she said. “The number of personal experiences that people are going to share with others will accelerate and strengthen our image in the region.”

Sandra van Meek, director of programming for the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which operates the RiverWalk, said the new employees will boost the quality of life downtown by patronizing the RiverWalk and other amenities.

“It becomes more viable beyond your typical workweek, and that’s what we’d love to see happen,” she said.

Quicken relocates first

The first of the new moves downtown promises to be the long-awaited arrival of online mortgage firm Quicken and several of its small, related companies.

Paula Silver, spokeswoman for Quicken founder and chairman Dan Gilbert, said Tuesday that about 700 Quicken workers will move downtown to the Compuware building on Aug. 16 and another 700 on Aug. 23. A few hundred more are to arrive at other times for about 1,700 in all.

Bill Emerson, Quicken Loans’ CEO, said that the firm’s employees were excited to move to Detroit.

“They are looking forward to working in an urban core where entertainment, like sporting events, concerts and theaters, are all just steps from our office door,” he said Tuesday.

Blue Cross has yet to make an official announcement of its move, but a person familiar with the details said an announcement is imminent. The Blues are to bring about 3,000 workers from suburban offices to the 500 and 600 towers of the Renaissance Center and to the existing Blue Cross campus downtown.

Frederick Liesveld, managing partner of the Grubb & Ellis real estate brokerage firm, said filling up some of downtown’s vacant Class A office space could lead to a round of new investment in older buildings. “That’s going to create a real interesting dynamic in Detroit,” he said.

The moves could also help redefine downtown Detroit, which for years has been known mainly as a home to banks, law firms and government workers.

The influx of Quicken’s youthful Internet-based Web team and the Blue Cross health care insurance workers will give downtown more of a service-industry flavor.

The moves may also boost downtown’s residential market, which took a nosedive in the nationwide housing crash.

Of course, parking is sure to become more of a problem, not to mention traffic at rush hour and waiting times at restaurants.

But Lang said she’d be happy to have those problems.

“It does feel likes it’s stabilized and we’re turning a corner,” she said. “Perhaps we were efficient and had all our crises at once, and now we’re ready to move on.”

Contact JOHN GALLAGHER: 313-222-5173 or gallagher@freepress.com

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