Quicken’s move could inspire more firms to come downtown

August 24, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

BY JOHN GALLAGHER
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

When 700 employees of Quicken Loans arrived for work Monday at the Compuware building, they each found a gift bag stuffed with discount coupons from nearby downtown restaurants and shops very eager to make their acquaintance.

Compuware_HQ_1Long-suffering businesses downtown have been eagerly awaiting Quicken’s move from suburban Livonia, seeing it as a sign of better days ahead. Downtown has been suffering a king-sized hangover from the prolonged recession.

Among the restaurant owners contributing discount cards to the gift bags was Jon Grabowski, owner of the Spa 19 24 Grille at the Westin Book Cadillac.

“Any exposure we can give to new businesses coming downtown only helps this idea of a greater Detroit,” Grabowski said Monday.

Employees of Quicken, an Internet-based mortgage lending company, also got a discount coupon from CK Mediterranean Grille & Catering, which by coincidence opened for business Monday in the Compuware complex at 119 Monroe. Owner Ouse Gulli said that when he learned that Quicken was moving downtown, he increased the size of his restaurant space from 2,000 square feet to 2,400 square feet.

“We felt that there was a possibility that the city was turning around and there was some synergy of investment and companies coming downtown, and we wanted to be a part of that,” he said.

Amid the excitement, it helps to remember that the Quicken move reflects a transfer of jobs within metro Detroit, rather than new jobs or growth from outside the region. And it also may bear remembering that when Quicken founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert first announced he would move his headquarters downtown from Livonia, in November 2007, he was projecting bringing 4,000 workers downtown and building his own headquarters skyscraper.

The recession trimmed the size and scope of that dream. Quicken opted to lease space in Compuware’s headquarters and bring about 1,700 workers downtown this month in shifts, with another 900 or so coming next Monday.

But even downsized from the initial dream, the Quicken move is exciting for metro Detroit’s core business district. And it is designed not as an isolated event, but as an example for other firms to follow.

“It can’t be just us. We can be a catalyst,” Quicken CEO Bill Emerson said Monday. “The vision that Dan and we all share is that Web-based business corridor that we think we can build down here.”

He added, “When you really think of an urban setting and getting tech-savvy folks sitting together, talking together, creating together, we think we can really create something special down here, and that’s what the focus is going to be.”

Even Monday, the benefits of Quicken’s move downtown were being felt quickly in the central city. At Canine To Five, a dog day-care operation on Cass Avenue north of downtown, owner Liz Blondy already was caring for three dogs from Quicken employees and had six more dogs scheduled within the next week.

“It is thrilling to see so many people from the suburbs, not only working downtown, but starting to utilize the area’s services,” Blondy said Monday.

After decades of losing people, downtown Detroit had made a comeback of sorts between the mid-’90s and 2006, when Detroit hosted Super Bowl XL. But then the economy crashed in 2007. Condo projects collapsed. Restaurants closed. Downtown’s office vacancy rate soared to more than 30%.

This summer, things seem to be turning around, at least tentatively. Quicken’s move brings 1,700 workers downtown. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan recently announced it would transfer 3,000 workers from its Southfield offices to the 500 and 600 towers of the Renaissance Center. A handful of new shops and restaurants, like Gulli’s CK Mediterranean Grille, are opening.

“There’s some great momentum right now,” Emerson said. “What we want to see is that momentum to continue, businesses really thinking about relocating to downtown Detroit.”

Mayor Dave Bing was among those welcoming Quicken’s employees during a ceremony in Compuware’s lobby Monday morning.

“We are excited to welcome Quicken to Detroit,” Bing said. “We look forward to them working, dining, shopping and living in the city.”

If nothing else, Quicken’s arrival brings a more youthful group of workers downtown than the traditional government, law and bank employees, said Robert Gregory, president of the Detroit 300 Conservancy, which runs Campus Martius Park. “It’ll be a more active and more fun demographic for downtown,” he said.

For Quicken’s workers, there was were the usual moving-day confusion. Painters still had drop cloths spread around some of the hallways, and everybody was learning which way to turn when they got off the elevators. But everyone seemed upbeat.

“The space is incredible,” Emerson said of the new digs in Compuware, where Quicken occupies the ninth through 12th floors of the 15-story office building. “Feedback from everybody so far has been tremendous. They love the way it looks — the colors, the openness, the views.”

Quicken’s move increases the number of people working downtown by 2% to 3%. With the results of the 2010 Census not expected until next year, nobody knows for sure how many people work downtown today, but a 2008 Census estimate suggested about 74,000 workers came downtown every day, although data analysts from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments suggest that the number is closer to 55,000. Others estimates place the true figure in between those two.

More importantly, Quicken’s move increases the number of downtown workers who eventually might invite friends and family to come downtown for dining, strolling, sporting events and other forms of entertainment and recreation.

“We can go to a game right after work,” marveled a Quicken marketing manager, Mark Smith. “It’s so nice without having to plan and say, ‘Let’s leave early.’ ”

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

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