Billed as a “city within a city,” the Renaissance Center in Detroit is the flashiest addition to the downtown skyline to date—and its most iconic. It sharply contrasts the Art Deco style that the city is known for, as seven interconnected skyscrapers tower over the International Waterfront. On May 22, 1973, construction began on the Renaissance Center, and Henry Ford II championed the Center for a more significant purpose: revitalizing Detroit’s economy in the face of an impending global oil crisis.

To Ford, investing in the Renaissance Center signified investing in the city, bringing Michigan’s most prominent civic and industrial players to the same table (and address!). In what would become one of the world’s largest commercial complexes, the center’s design was large enough to have its own zip code and splayed across more than 14 acres of land. Detroit had high hopes that this grand undertaking would pump millions into the region’s economy with new jobs, more traffic into the city, and one of the tallest all-hotel buildings in the Western Hemisphere. Opened in 1977 as the Detroit Plaza Hotel houses the center tower where guest of the Detroit Marriott can experience breathtaking views

Two decades later General Motors purchased the Renaissance Center to bring new energy and business prospects to downtown. The automaker moved 5,000 employees from its former headquarters in Flint and more than 5,000 additional workers from all corners of Michigan. The sale also kicked off the revitalization of the Detroit Waterfront. The Renaissance Center today has three miles of incredible walkways and biking paths along the shores.

The skyscrapers now go by many names, including Ren Cen, the Ren Center and GMRENCEN, and its offerings expand well beyond office space. It has now become more of a cultural fixture, and brings Detroit together in these ways and more:

  1. Exquisite eats: Some of the country’s best chefs bring delicacies from all around the world to the Ren Center, to restaurants like Joe Muer Seafood. There’s nothing like fresh seafood plates with a view of the river!
  2. A summertime oasis: The GM Plaza Water Foundation activated in May 2005, making it a fast family favorite. Kids chase water geysers all day long—when they’re all done, they can bike to nearby spots like the Detroit Water Ice Factory.
  3. Encouraging a sustainable future: GMRENCEN provides its tenants direct access to purchasing cost-effective, environmentally sensitive supplies and services. It customizes recycling programs for any office space, partnering with the EPA and the U.S. Green Building Council among others in splashy—and impactful—national campaigns.

Michigan’s amazing history doesn’t start and end with Detroit. Read up on stories from across the state at Empowering Michigan →

Photo Credit: Paul Bica

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