GM to renovate RenCen’s Jefferson Avenue face

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. intends to add an angular glass-walled addition with a huge LED screen to the front of its downtown headquarters at the Renaissance Center. It’s the automaker’s latest attempt to transform the mammoth structure that’s long been criticized for being an isolated fortress.

General Motors Co. said Friday it is planning a 120,000-square-foot renovation at its Renaissance Center headquarters, part of which will feature a large LED screen over the People Mover station.

The three-story addition will have a forward pitch, leaning toward Jefferson Avenue, with corners that have smooth, muscular curves like a Cadillac. A 70-foot-by-80-foot LED screen will cover the People Mover stop and hover above the street.

Inside, a bright atrium will be used as a sleek gallery for cars and trucks so GM will “tell our brand stories,” Tim Mahoney, chief marketing officer and leader of Global Chevrolet and global marketing operations, said Friday.

“We could tell the history of the SUV,” Mahoney offered as one example. Exhibitions will change regularly. Beyond the possibility of a GM store, there will be no additional retail in the 104,000-square-foot space.

Construction is to begin this summer and the addition could open in late 2018, GM officials said. The cost of the project was not revealed.

It will occupy a mix of new construction and current space. Part of that space was formerly occupied by the Renaissance Center’s movie theaters, which recently closed.

GM has not decided on a name for the structure.

It’s the latest major renovation of GM’s headquarters. In 2004, GM completed a $500 million upgrade of the riverfront building, which it purchased in 1996. The upgrades began quickly, including a new circular pathway indoors that’s aimed to cut down on the number of people who get lost inside the maze of towers. That’s still an issue, though.

Further additions include the five-story Wintergarden atrium on the back of the Renaissance Center, which provides a stunning view of the Detroit River. GM also added the outdoor plaza, where concerts are often held, along the Detroit Riverwalk pathway.

GM has already overhauled parts of the Jefferson Avenue frontage as well. It removed a wall that separated the building from the street and replaced it with a curvy, glass walled, pavilion entrance. The latest addition will be next to those earlier Jefferson Avenue upgrades.

The GM RenCen – the automaker officially rebranded it with that name last July – is one of the most popular postcard images of Detroit’s skyline. Mahoney called it “the Eiffel Tower of Detroit.”

It’s been called a lot worse. Architecture critics and some officials disapproved of the structure early on, contending it was cut off from the rest of downtown. Others decried that glass tower look was in stark contrast to neighboring buildings.

Opened in 1977, it was conceived by Henry Ford II and financed primarily by Ford Motor Co. The Renaissance Center became the world’s largest private development at a cost of $500 million. The complex has four 39-story office towers surrounding a 73-story center with combined floor space of 5.5 million square feet.

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