Microsoft considering a downtown Detroit office

Ian Thibodeau, and Louis Aguilar
DetroitNews

Detroit — Detroit will see big construction projects start and a "major" office tenant move into the city in 2017, all at the hands of Quicken Loans founder and downtown real estate mogul Dan Gilbert.

That tenant could be Microsoft Corp., which is considering relocating at least some of its Southfield offices into one of the downtown buildings owned by Gilbert's Bedrock Detroit, according to a source familiar with the negotiations between the two firms. The Redmond, Wash.-based technology firm currently occupies 52,000 square feet at the Southfield Town Center, one the largest multi-tenant office complexes in Michigan. Microsoft is considering leasing around 50,000 square feet in downtown Detroit, according to the source.

Gilbert didn't offer details on the tenant or which of his big construction plans would fire up this year. The plans have yet to be finalized, Gilbert said.

Gilbert did say Sunday the new unnamed tenant would temporarily displace some of his own 16,000 employees downtown in order to make room.

Dan Gilbert, chairman and founder of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans Inc., during an interview by Betty Liu, a news anchor for Bloomberg Television, during the North American International Auto Show, at Cobo Hall on Sunday.

He hinted at the plans during an interview with Bloomberg News anchor Betty Liu on Sunday afternoon at the North American International Auto Show. Gilbert used the stage to pitch the city to out-of-town journalists and auto company employees, and encourage visitors to get out and see the changes happening downtown.

"I think that the change here ... is truly dramatic and something that is maybe unprecedented," he said.

Gilbert controls more than 90 properties in downtown Detroit. He’s invested over $2 billion in the city, and he and his real estate company, Bedrock, are major forces downtown.

The businessman moved the headquarters of Quicken Loans from Livonia to downtown Detroit in 2010. At the time, the city's central business district was struggling with blight. Since the move, over 30 of those buildings have been renovated and become occupied, are being fixed up, or have plans to be brought back to life.

Gilbert-affiliated companies are responsible for a number of restaurants and renovated apartment buildings downtown. Bedrock recently completed work on the first ground-up construction project in the Central Business District since the 1980s. The 28 Grand project, located not far from Cobo Center where Gilbert spoke Sunday afternoon, houses 218 "micro" apartments, a catchy term used to describe the 260-square-foot rooms.

The businessman also has two major mixed-use development projects on the back burner. One is a mixed-use building on the site of the former J.L. Hudson's Building, details of which Gilbert and his associates have kept under wraps for over a year. Plans for that project are pending city approval. The other project is a multi-block renovation on a site in the heart of downtown known as the Monroe Block, where Gilbert wants to build an office tower and a residential tower in addition to retail space.

On Sunday, Gilbert teased a major announcement within the next few weeks. He also said by next year there should be construction cranes on the skyline, equipment Gilbert for months has said indicates proper growth in a major city.

The Detroit-based businessman said the city's success depends on the growth of its major companies, namely Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The Big Three has already been instrumental in helping the city rebuild, he said.

"They've been great," he said. "If you walk within a half a mile ... on any of the streets here, you're going to see things that you've never seen before, and a lot of that was because of cooperation from General Motors, and Ford and Chrysler."

Gilbert said his new construction projects downtown might offer space for the auto companies to expand their footprint downtown.

Taking the conversation national, Gilbert offered a few remarks regarding President-elect Donald Trump. Gilbert said he's met Trump, who he called "the least predictable person," a couple times. Gilbert said he wasn't sure how Trump's policies might affect Detroit or the auto industry, but said Trump's history as a businessman and real estate magnate could lead to benefits for major cities with "urban cores," a term Gilbert uses to refer to downtown areas he sees as essential to the strength of a city.

He also had advice for the president-elect: "Stop the Twitter thing," Gilbert said with a laugh.

For complete coverage of the Detroit auto show go to detroitnews.com/autos/auto-show

ithibodeau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau