Monday, April 18, 2011

The Rennaisance Center - GM's awe-inspiring world headquarters in downtown Detroit is a symbol of American automotive excellence

With an auto plant in the Fairfax district, a district office in Corporate Woods, plus hundreds of area dealership locations, Kansas City is a major market for auto giant General Motors.

But whenever you watch local news coverage about GM on television, they will often cut to stock footage of GM’s corporate headquarters in Detroit, Mich.

That massive structure of seven meticulous skyscrapers is called the Renaissance Center, or “RenCen” as it is known by insiders. It houses the GM world headquarters, as well as a downtown shopping district that includes storefronts, a food court, a Marriott hotel, and a movie theatre.

I've had the opportunity to check out the RenCen a few times during my travels to the Motor City, it really is as impressive as those pictures on the news makes it seem.

In spite of the RenCen’s close association with General Motors, it was actually commissioned in 1970 by cross-town rival Ford motor Company. Ford occupied and refined the complex from 1977 until it was purchased by GM in 1996. GM then undertook a $500-million restoration and upgrade of the facility.

Until GM bought the RenCen, the world headquarters were west of Detroit’s Woodward Avenue in what is now known as Cadillac Place. This ornate, 1920s landmark consisted of four large office wings. It was quite impressive in its own right, and many historic photos feature this complex when illustrating GM’s heyday. The large “GENERAL MOTORS” signage stood as a symbol of American success.

In contrast, the ominous images of today’s RenCen are often depicted as a symbol of American excess and failure. The mainstream media doesn’t seem to report much good news from the troubled car maker anymore.

Yet, when you actually get beyond the media reports, things seem more optimistic once you experience the RenCen firsthand. An above ground train, called the People Mover, connects the RenCen to other shops, businesses, hotels, and casinos throughout Detroit’s busy downtown. For only 50-cents, you can easily make your way around the city, and there is always something to see or do, day or night.

Once inside the RenCen, a beautiful showroom reminds you that, “hey, this company really does still build some nice vehicles.” Most new GM cars and light trucks are on display in the showroom, including classic favorites like the Impala and Lucerne, and new models such as the Corvette Grand Sport and Buick LaCrosse.

When you walk around and see the shops, you also see GM employees scrambling around with brief cases and stacks of paper, working hard to put the once unstoppable GM back on top of the automotive world.

It is hard to be an American and not hope they succeed. For more than a century, General Motors has been a symbol of American know-how and determination. And based on the cars and trucks that come from GM factories around the world, it can be again.

Hopefully someday, the feeling people get when they see images of the RenCen will be similar to what people felt when they beheld the old headquarters at Cadillac Place. Throughout history, a strong General Motors has walked hand-in-hand with a strong America. There are people working in a seven-skyscraper complex in downtown Detroit that believe it will be again.

The slideshow below contains pictures from inside and outside the beautiful and impressive GM RenCen World Headquarters. Many of them are pictures I took myself--usually they are blurry car photos. Others are professional shots taken by GM's marketing people. If it looks like it was shot from a helecopter, I probably didn't take it. But the best photos in the world would have a hard time conveying just how awe-inspiring this place really is.

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