Detroit Skyscrapers Remain Historical Staple on City Skyline

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By: Dave MacDonald, Executive Vice President, Jones Lang LaSalle 

The impact of a local landmark goes beyond exterior benefits. This post is the third in a series that highlights landmarks, news or trends across Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, as well as the corresponding impact on local real estate, with takeaways that can be applied in neighboring geographies.

Detroit Spotlight

The Renaissance Center

Standing tall through the ups and downs of market activity, Detroit’s skyscrapers have become something of a staple in this city’s resilient culture.

Detroit constructed a majority of its iconic office structures in early 1920s − when the city became known as the “Paris of the Midwest,” according to The Detroit News. In fact, The Detroit News reported that it was ranked among the top three cities leading the nation in skyscraper construction, only falling behind production in New York and Chicago.

Detroit is once again in the midst of a transformational period. While the city embarks on new construction projects, historical skyscrapers stand at attention on Detroit’s notorious Woodward Avenue.  Below, I’ve highlighted three of Detroit’s most beloved structures: The Guardian Building, One Woodward Avenue and The Renaissance Center.

The Guardian Building

  • Square footage: 643, 379
  • Year built: 1929

Travel + Leisure described the Guardian as “a treasure hidden in plain sight.” And, it certainly is.

This unique art-deco style building spans 40 floors, historically deemed ‘The Cathedral of Finance’ for its location in the financial district. The building is nationally known as an architectural wonder, especially for its time. Design of the building is inspired by “Aztec, exotic modern, American Indian and jazz-age elegance,” said the Detroit News.

The Guardian brings a mixture of diversity and local flavor to downtown Detroit. It’s a must-see for tourists visiting our city. The building has been endorsed by other major publications, including National Geographic.

One Woodward Avenue

  • Square footage: 332,735
  • Year built: 1962 

One Woodward Avenue is best known for its world-famous designer, Minoru Yamasaki, who later built New York City’s World Trade Center. Detroit Free Press noted, “The design is often called an early predecessor of the Yamasaki design for New York’s World Trade Center.” The building continues to be admired for its architectural contribution, as well as housing key city businesses.

One Woodward Avenue is also playing a key role in the revitalization of downtown Detroit. In late 2012, Dan Gilbert continued his buying spree in the central business district with the purchase of One Woodward Avenue. Gilbert has acquired about 2.9 million square feet of space downtown, transforming and revitalizing a vibrant culture.

The Renaissance Center

  • Square footage: 5.5 million
  • Year built: 1976

The Renaissance Center portfolio was built in two phases – the first in the 70s and the second phase was complete in the 80s. Towers 500 and 600 (phase II) were completed in 1981. Today, the Center is home to General Motor’s world headquarters.

Not only does it house one of the world’s biggest businesses, it also attracts tourists and local residents for fine dining and shopping. After more than 30 years, the RenCenter is more vibrant than ever. Visit the RenCenter’s website for restaurant suggestions and shopping tips.

Detroit Skyscrapers Serve as Cultural Assets, Business Drivers

Detroit’s skyscrapers tell a story of the city’s past; reminding us of our culture and instilling a driver of local business. From construction to renovation to purchase, millions of dollars have been invested in Detroit’s notorious skyscrapers. Below is a quick look at spending related to the aforementioned local landmarks.

The Price Tag

The Guardian: Purchased by Wayne County in 2007 as part of a 33.5 million dollar deal, including two other assets.

One Woodward Ave: Purchased by Gilbert at the estimated cost of $4 – $6 million

The Renaissance Center: Total cost of construction was about $350 million. GM spent $500 million on renovations in 1996.

Now, more than ever, downtown Detroit is the place to be. More and more residential development is being constructed and demand is far outweighing supply. In result, new energy and a younger workforce have emerged into our local scene. Dan Gilbert’s visionary spending and rebuilding plays a large role in the city’s recent upturn; however, local landmarks will stand as a remembrance of the past, as well as staples in future growth.

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About the Author 

Dave MacDonaldDave MacDonald is Executive Vice President in the Detroit office of Jones Lang LaSalle. With 20 years of commercial real estate experience, Dave  specializes in acquisitions and dispositions of  office and industrial properties.  View Dave MacDonald’s bio or connect with him on LinkedIn



Renaissance Center Image via JasonParis, Creative Commons