Discuss Detroit Archives - January 2008 What the RenCen Could Be... Previous Next
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Waymooreland
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Username: Waymooreland

Post Number: 41
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 2:39 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Who's heard of Cleveland's Tower City Center? (http://www.towercitycenter.com /index.cfm) I hadn't until today, but as a Detroiter, I'm kind of jealous. Any current or former Clevelanders (Clevelandites?) have any input on the place?

I'm feeling like this is what the RenCen could/should be, but it's not quite there, it seems. What's preventing the RenCen from being as much of a destination as Tower City? Is it just that Metro Detroit is still a few years behind Cleveland in revitalizing its downtown? Something else?
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Professorscott
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Username: Professorscott

Post Number: 1253
Registered: 12-2006
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 2:46 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Well, here's one damn clue, right from their own web site:

"From Tower City Center, you're also steps away from a rapid ride. RTA service takes you across town to points east and west, as well as down to the Flats or out to the North Coast Harbor."
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Waymooreland
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Username: Waymooreland

Post Number: 42
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 2:52 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Okay, Scott, I admit that I was fishing for your response. I completely agree that transit is a huge factor, but is it the primary factor?
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Danindc
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Username: Danindc

Post Number: 4257
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 2:57 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Tower City is okay, at best. The renovation in the late 80s was done well. There is a LOT of natural light. At the end of the day, though, the main "public" area is a FREAKING SHOPPING MALL. Big deal. Way to get pedestrians off Public Square and Euclid Avenue.

The RTA hub is a key element to its success, and there are walkways from Tower City to Gund Arena (I'm not calling it that Quorporate name) and the new federal courthouse. The walkways are convenient and heavily used, but again--way to keep pedestrians off the street!

Frankly, I think Tower City (the lower levels, anyway) would be best served in their original purpose--as a train station, especially with the Ohio Hub plan in the works. How convenient it must have been back in the day to deboard a train, and be steps from the center of downtown! Unfortunately, most of the tracks were torn out in order to build--drum roll--parking!
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401don
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Username: 401don

Post Number: 420
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 2:58 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Look closely at the list of retail shops in the Directory. It's mostly small, boutique shops, service shops, restaurants, a few shoe stores. It's not much more impressive than Ren Cen, which also boasts about 100 shops. Granted they're lined up in a row like a traditional mall, which makes it easier to shop, but this place appears to have lost many of the larger clothing stores. It looked like it was struggling when I was there 5 yrs. ago. I wish it well but I don't believe it's a destination. More like a place you wander through, going from your hotel to the ballpark or arena.
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Higgs1634
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Username: Higgs1634

Post Number: 406
Registered: 10-2005
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 3:00 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

quote:

...transit is a huge factor, but is it the primary factor?



Uh, no one wants to shop there? When Brooks Brothers can't make a go of it in the lobby of GM's World HQ, you know there is a problem.
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Rb336
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Username: Rb336

Post Number: 6041
Registered: 02-2007
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 3:04 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Brooks Brothers is pretty shoddy for high-end clothing. I don't expect fabric puckering in my shoulders on a $500 jacket, but there it is
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Eboyer
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Username: Eboyer

Post Number: 109
Registered: 01-2007
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 3:06 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Honestly, Tower City is not that great. The retail turnover in that place is consistently high. The one benefit is you can walk from landmark to landmark inside when the weather is crappy.
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401don
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Username: 401don

Post Number: 421
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 3:14 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Actually, Ren Cen has transit at the front door. The mistake was not putting the entire People Mover on the inside.
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Professorscott
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Username: Professorscott

Post Number: 1254
Registered: 12-2006
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 3:20 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Yeah, but the People Mover doesn't go anywhere. So you can get on at the Ren Cen, and in 15 minutes you're back at the Ren Cen.

If the People Mover went anywhere, or was decently connected to any RT that did go anywhere, it'd mean something.

You could put the PM station in the middle of an effing store and it wouldn't help. Look how well the David Whitney building is doing, for instance. The PM is the best of both worlds: expensive and meaningless.
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Vivadetroit
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Username: Vivadetroit

Post Number: 12
Registered: 04-2008
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 3:36 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Tower City isn't great. The main reason people go there is that the train going out to the burbs/airport run through there. And it's not much of a destination. I lived in CL for a yr and no one ever wanted to go there. There's a movie theater, Hard Rock, but other than shopping, not much.

The prob is that CL's people are putting good PR out, whereas the Detroit PR machine is too focuses on Kwame right now.
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Danindc
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Username: Danindc

Post Number: 4259
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 3:50 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

quote:

The prob is that CL's people are putting good PR out, whereas the Detroit PR machine is too focuses on Kwame right now.



I don't understand this statement. Can you elaborate?
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401don
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Username: 401don

Post Number: 422
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 3:56 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Professor. I meant put the entire PM system on the inside.:-)
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Detroitbill
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Username: Detroitbill

Post Number: 634
Registered: 09-2006
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 4:36 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Just got back this weekend from Cleveland staying with friends. Its funny how the grass always seems greener. They said Tower City is no big deal, that the department store closed several years ago due to lack of business and all thats left is a bunch of stores catering mostly to daytime workers.. They have been to Detroit and said to me,, "Tower City is ok but your RenCen looks so much nicer and bigger on your riverfront." Here we go again but we often are our own worst enemies..
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Iheartthed
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Username: Iheartthed

Post Number: 3076
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 4:54 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Didn't the SEMTA trains once terminate at the Ren Cen?
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Gazhekwe
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Username: Gazhekwe

Post Number: 2016
Registered: 08-2007
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 5:05 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I was at Tower City last year. Not that impressive, as there aren't that many shops, and still not much going on in nearby streets. It's just a small mall and walkways to here and there. There was a lot of construction in the area making walking outside difficult.
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401don
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Username: 401don

Post Number: 423
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 5:16 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

For all of its money and efforts, GM's renovation of the Ren Cen didn't make it much more user friendly, especially for 1st timers, such as hotel guests/conventioneers. The Wintergarden did open the complex to the river, but it's basically just more unused public space.
Any of you architecture students know if this place is used as an example of what not to do.
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Viziondetroit
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Username: Viziondetroit

Post Number: 1676
Registered: 11-2003
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 5:57 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

The Detroit PR machine isn't focused on Kwame at all.. his team is focused on saving him. The media is focused on Kwame.. none of that has ANYTHING to do with an RTA. That lil think called the economy is what's the issue and the other lil component called funding get in the way.
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Burnsie
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Username: Burnsie

Post Number: 1382
Registered: 11-2003
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 11:24 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Iheartthed-- Yes, the SEMTA trains terminated at the RenCen until 1983. The tracks have since been ripped up to Gratiot or thereabouts (Dequindre Cut).
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Professorscott
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Username: Professorscott

Post Number: 1258
Registered: 12-2006
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 11:31 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Here's a question: does anyone have any memory of the SEMTA trains? Where were the stops, what was the schedule like, why did not very many people use that service (I imagine not many did or they'd still be running it, unless that's naive).
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Vivadetroit
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Username: Vivadetroit

Post Number: 13
Registered: 04-2008
Posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2008 - 11:44 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

it didn't have anything to do with the RTA.

What I meant was: The city of Detroit's PR machine (Kwame's team), not other PR firms. sorry for the misunderstanding.

When I lived in CL, there wasn't any good news in the media or among the population about Detroit's progress/revitalization. And I am a journalist, so I got tons of PR pieces pushing stuff about "great things in XXX city"... How come we know about Cleveland's progress and they don't know about ours? It all boils down to the city's PR team to get ideas/good news to the media. We need to get some positive PR out about the city.
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Django
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Username: Django

Post Number: 292
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 1:28 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

401don is spot on. What a massive architectural blunder. Im sure the Ren Cen. looked great on vellum paper but damn its a disaster trying to find your way around the place. You would think there would be a way to somehow renovate it to box so its easier to navigate once inside. Its the whole cylinder structure that seems to be the problem, throws your sense of direction off completely. A few million invested in that place and I would think it might be able to be a hub of interest.
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Gnome
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Username: Gnome

Post Number: 1167
Registered: 08-2007
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 4:11 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

ProfessorScott: I believe the SEMTA train was called the Silver Streak, but alas it wasn't much of a streak. It ran from Pontiac to the RenCen twice in the morning and twice at night with stops in Birmingham, Royal Oak, New Center and Ren Cen.

It was slow, unreliable, infrequent and kind of expensive. Oh, yeah, it was dirty and smokey. Just like a bus today except for the cigarettes.

The Ren Cen stop was in front of that restaurant that keeps changing its name.

===
From the Tower Center web-site I couldn't get a feel for the place. Too text heavy. Is that the place downtown designed by Daniel Burnham?
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Sean_of_detroit
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Username: Sean_of_detroit

Post Number: 282
Registered: 03-2008
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 5:30 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I really think a big part of the Ren Cen's problem is location. It's just so isolated from the rest of downtown (the new entrance helps). I also agree the layout is confusing, especially if you're trying to find the theater.

I really think that it's placement on the river was a mistake. It's just off in a corner with the tunnel and Jefferson Avenue acting as barriers. Then on the other side you have an empty Rivertown. Maybe it will be better with the new developments along the Riverwalk.

Seriously, if the Renaissance Center was centrally located on Woodward (near Campus Martius or Grand Circus Park), I think it would be doing much better as far as retail is concerned.

Did anyone really believe this place was going to spur a renaissance in Detroit?
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56packman
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Username: 56packman

Post Number: 2248
Registered: 12-2005
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 8:36 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

401don nailed it--the building, despite the millions GM has invested was just poorly designed from the beginning. It was a isolated fortress when built, the changes have corrected some aspects of the design, but the design remains essentially flawed.
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Bob
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Username: Bob

Post Number: 1779
Registered: 11-2003
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 8:51 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

That is the first time I have ever heard anyone describe an experience on the SEMTA trains.
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Illwill
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Username: Illwill

Post Number: 114
Registered: 11-2003
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 9:10 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I ditto Sean of Detroit. The isolation of the Ren Cen kills all of it's potential. I don't think it's ever going to change.

Lake Point Towers in Chicago made the same mistake and the residents of Chicago will tell you, because of it's isolation from the rest of the walkable city, it's become a place for residents who PREFER to be away from the action.
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Waymooreland
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Username: Waymooreland

Post Number: 45
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 10:59 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

If isolation is the RenCen's biggest flaw, then Cadillac Centre -- assuming it gets built -- should be a resounding success with it's location right at Campus Martius, right? (fingers crossed)

Also, thanks to those who pointed out from firsthand experience that Tower City's not all that. Actually, if you compare its website to the RenCen's, they really are quite similar. And I suppose it evens out because Tower City may have more shopping options and better connection to transit, but the RenCen is definitely more of a landmark.
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Dtwflyer
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Username: Dtwflyer

Post Number: 65
Registered: 01-2005
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 11:10 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

SEMTA had stops at:
Pontiac
Bloomfield Hills - Long Lake/18 Mile & Kensington
Charing Cross -Charing Cross & Kensington (b/w 16-17 Mile)
Birmingham - Maple/15 Mile & Eton
Royal Oak - Downtown
New Center - GM ran a shuttle service over to the GM Building from the station
Ren Cen

In the late 70's/early 80's there were 3 trains southbound in the morning, 3 trains northbound in the evening. The schedule was something like arriving downtown at 7am, 8am, 9am. Departures around 4pm, 5pm, 6pm.

My old man used to ride the service back then as they lived within walking distance of the Birmingham station and had only one car. My mom would take the car during the day to her job and my dad would ride the train downtown to the GM building every day.

He said he loved the train, and on Fridays they would pick up a six-packs of beer outside the GM building and enjoy "happy hour" on the train ride home.
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Sirrealone
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Username: Sirrealone

Post Number: 144
Registered: 01-2007
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 11:14 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

GM added the glass walkway in the center. I think that was designed to help people get around. As long as you can find your way to the 'core', you can walk around in a circle until you find the tower you need to get to.
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Danindc
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Username: Danindc

Post Number: 4272
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 11:27 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

quote:

And I suppose it evens out because Tower City may have more shopping options and better connection to transit, but the RenCen is definitely more of a landmark.



Blasphemy.
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Dtwflyer
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Username: Dtwflyer

Post Number: 66
Registered: 01-2005
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 11:31 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Another serious problem with the Ren Center is the walk-ability of Jefferson directly in front and across from the building.

The Ren Cen is still somewhat of an island or fortress as it is isolated by the massive boulevard. Granted its a little better now that they've gotten rid of the huge berms, but its still is seriously lacking. Speeds are too high, too many drivers run lights and there is little else on the river side of Jefferson.

The sidewalk crossing the tunnel entrance on Jefferson doesn't even have pedestrain signals! AND THEY TELL THEM NOT TO CROSS THERE.

There is still a serious lack of continuity between the Ren Cen and downtown.

All of those surface parking lots need to go ASAP!
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Waymooreland
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Username: Waymooreland

Post Number: 46
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Wednesday, May 07, 2008 - 11:47 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Well, people can use the skywalk from Millender Center to the RenCen, but it still does feel isolated.

Wait 'til Ficano gets his skywalk from Cobo to the RenCen! That'll do it! (sarcasm)

Ugh, and all of those surface lots -- gross.
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Sean_of_detroit
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Username: Sean_of_detroit

Post Number: 290
Registered: 03-2008
Posted on Thursday, May 08, 2008 - 2:55 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I've been kicking this topic around in my head a little more, and I have some thoughts I want to add. I'm probably going to end up repeating a few of the things above. I'm going to meander through some different thoughts.

First, hope is not lost for the Ren Cen. It might actually already be a Tower City. The problem is that there just aren't enough tenants. There are huge gaps in between stores. The Winter Garden is semi filled. The problem is Tower 300 & 400. Tower 300 is slowly filling in. 400 is almost empty. It's been awhile, but I think the only tenant over there is a small smoothie shop, and maybe Seldom Blues. It's just to much hassle. If I go through all the trouble of going to a shopping center like this, I want to be able to browse many shops, and visit unique boutiques. There just isn't enough to do at the Ren Cen if you're not a tourist. Again, the movie theater is also very hard to find. It should be closer to the Winter Garden, with an entrance off the street. You should be able to go buy your tickets and then look around some nearby stores. Unfortunately, the theater is clear across the building.

It's funny, but I really think the People Mover and Ren Cen are playing a major role in downtowns rebirth. Right now both are just novelties. In the future I see the People Mover being used more and more. For example, if you live outside the PM loop, you are only a few short stops away from all your needs (Library, gym, shopping, entertainment, work, etc.), especially in the snow and rain. The sooner that this happens, the more popular the Ren Cen will be. Unfortunately, the skywalk and PM station aren't as big of draws as they could be. This is mostly because the shops in the front of the building are all empty (CVS helps).

Another thing is the Winter Garden Entrance. This needs to be promoted more as the main retail entrance. I could see a future of larger retail anchors inside Tower 300 and 400, or on the unused level of the Winter Garden.

It really seems like this is a textbook example of adding retail before residents/customer base. Once the new Port of Authority is done, you will see more business walking over from Hart Plaza. Residential space also need to be added to the East and West Riverwalk. Riverfront Towers need better access. Also, any planed additions to Cobo should really think about a connected hotel/apartment building like Millender Center. Developments in Bricktown would also be extremely beneficial. Developing the Ford Auditorium space would also help, even if it is just a expansion of Hart Plaza.

The Ren Cen as a landmark, does attract people though. It would help sell residences close to it. It really could be poised to be a nice shopping center. On the other hand, if nothing is done in that area, much of the retail will probably end up in newer buildings like Cadillac Centre.

I have one other quick thought. Like Woodward, Jefferson is a tourist road. People unfamiliar with Detroit often stick to it, as those are the roads they know best. I'm not saying locals have no use for them. I'm just saying that if you've lived in Detroit for any period of time, you should know how to easily avoid them. How many times have you seen stop and go traffic on Woodward or Jefferson, only to find no traffic on all the streets parallel to them? To add to this, many suburbanites aren't used to one way streets. They tend to avoid roads like Larned, Congress, Brush, and the lower one way portions of the spokes.

Eventual public transit along the Riverwalk would also be helpful. Is that just wishful thinking?
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56packman
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Username: 56packman

Post Number: 2252
Registered: 12-2005
Posted on Thursday, May 08, 2008 - 8:31 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Sean--at the time the Ren Cen was constructed (I watched it being built) it took tenants from older teens-twenties office buildings downtown.
There were a lot more of those buildings back then, and they were actually occupied at that time, if only partially.
Since that time even the Ren Cen has lost occupancy, buildings like the Lafayette sit empty and 1001 Woodward emptied and the conversion to lofts became the only option for the owners.
I welcome you fix for this situation.
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Bob
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Username: Bob

Post Number: 1784
Registered: 11-2003
Posted on Thursday, May 08, 2008 - 11:25 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I stayed at the Ren Cen Marriott just for a fun night downtown (can't wait to stay at the Book-Cadillac for the same reason), and went to wander around the shops and none of them were open. It was a weekend with lots of Dallas Cowboy fans staying there in town and nothing was open. Even Starbucks was closed. Lots of them were on the DPM though going to the Greektown Casino and dinner though.
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401don
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Username: 401don

Post Number: 436
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Thursday, May 08, 2008 - 2:04 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

You're right Bob. Most weekend guests are in town for a ballgame or show. They have some time to kill and wander around. However GM usually closes the auto display weekends and half the shops are closed. In addition, Marriott got rid of the indoor pool with the last reno. In future, I'll be at the Book Caddy when I can afford it. The Shelby or Greektown when I can't.
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56packman
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Username: 56packman

Post Number: 2260
Registered: 12-2005
Posted on Friday, May 09, 2008 - 1:19 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I think John Portman (architect of the Ren cen, and other look-alike centers in LA and Atlanta) grew up in a house that had a Scott radio. They featured a chrome plated chassis with covers over verey tube and capacitor.


model for the Ren Cen
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Gistok
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Username: Gistok

Post Number: 6794
Registered: 08-2004
Posted on Friday, May 09, 2008 - 1:44 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

The layout of the shopping areas of the RenCen cannot be changed too much. After all there are four 39 story octagonal towers whose foundations and support beams determine the layout of the shopping areas.

You can't fit a square peg into an ocagonal hole!

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