No other major city in America has as big of an image problem as Detroit, which has become an enduring symbol of urban decay. Incredibly, between 1950 and 2000, the city's population fell from a peak of 1.8 million to less than 1 million. Downtown blight is widespread. Several signature buildings went dark long ago and remain in serious disrepair. The city streets are often void of pedestrians. But that downward spiral appears as if it's about to change, at least in some limited fashion.
With Super Bowl XL set to arrive in the Motor City in 2006, both the private and public sectors feel a sense of urgency to eradicate the blight. Frankly, I don't understand why it takes a national football matchup to galvanize the community, but if it works, I'm all for it.
In July, the City of Detroit made a wise move when it announced that the historic Book-Cadillac Hotel — which a decade ago was slated for the wrecking ball — will be renovated at a cost of $147 million. The development, to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2005, will be named the Renaissance Book-Cadillac Hotel and will be an upscale brand of Marriott International. It will contain 386 hotel rooms, 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and about 70 high-end apartments that will be converted to condominiums.
This hotel is special to Detroiters. Located at Washington Boulevard and Michigan Avenue, the Book-Cadillac stands nearly 30 stories tall and was the largest hotel outside New York City when it opened in 1924. Constructed in the Italian Renaissance style, it was the city's premier hotel for more than 50 years before it closed in 1984 due to financial problems. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon all visited the hotel.
Historic Hospitality Investments (HHI) of Michigan, a subsidiary of Kimberly-Clark Corp., will be the owner of the property upon completion. The project developer is Cadillac Development of Michigan. HHI has extensive experience in renovating historic hotels. Earlier this year, it completed a $268 million renovation of the Renaissance Grand Hotel in St. Louis. HHI is investing $43.3 million in the project through equity and federal tax credits and will also issue $52 million in tax-exempt Empowerment Zone bonds. “These historic rehab projects work,” says Lynn Fournier, director of tax credit investments for Kimberly-Clark. “Every city is working to have a more vital downtown, and these projects have a lot of upside potential.”
One added advantage: Compuware's new $350 million, 1.1 million sq. ft. world headquarters at the intersection of Woodward Avenue and Monroe Street houses 4,100 employees and is located only a few blocks from the hotel. Fournier is optimistic that will help generate additional business. She doesn't anticipate competition from other hotels once the redevelopment is complete in large part because the Book Cadillac is so unique. “We believe there is not a hotel in Detroit that will be of this quality. There is a great deal of sentiment for the renovation of this particular hotel.”
Best of all, it will open in time for the SuperBowl. Prediction: Lions 21, Steelers 10.