Renaissance Center

Renaissance Center (also known as the GM Renaissance Center and nicknamed the RenCen) is a group of seven interconnected skyscrapers in Downtown Detroit, Michigan, United States. Located on the International Riverfront, the Renaissance Center complex is owned by General Motors as its world headquarters. The central tower, the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, is the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere, and features the largest rooftop restaurant, Coach Insignia. It has been the tallest building in Michigan since its erection in 1977.

John Portman was the principal architect for the original design. The first phase constructed a five tower rosette rising from a common base. Four 39-story office towers surround the 73-story hotel rising from a square-shaped podium which includes a shopping center, restaurants, brokerage firms, banks, a four-screen movie theatre, private clubs. The first phase officially opened in March 1977. Portman's design renewed attention to city architecture, constructing the world's tallest hotel at the time. Two additional 21-story office towers (known as Tower 500 and Tower 600) opened in 1981. This type of complex has been termed a city within a city.

In 2004, General Motors completed a US$500 million renovation of the class-A center as its world headquarters, which it had purchased in 1996. The renovation included the addition of the five-story Wintergarden atrium, which provides access to the International Riverfront. Architects for the renovation included Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Gensler, SmithGroup, and Ghafari Associates. Work continued in and around the complex until 2005. Renaissance Center totals 5,552,000 square feet (515,800 m2) making it one of the world's largest office complexes.


Conceived by Henry Ford II and financed primarily by the Ford Motor Company, the Renaissance Center became the world's largest private development with an anticipated 1971 cost of $500 million. The project was intended to revitalize the economy of Detroit. In its first year of operation it generated over $1 billion in economic growth for the downtown.

In 1970, Ford Motor Company Chairman Henry Ford II teamed up with other business leaders to form Detroit Renaissance, a private non-profit development organization, which he headed in order to stimulate building activity in the city. The group announced the first phase of construction in 1971. In addition, Detroit Renaissance contributed to a variety of other projects within the downtown area in the ensuing decades. Henry Ford II sold the concept of the RenCen to the City and community leaders. Detroit Mayor Roman Gribbs touted the project as a complete rebuilding from bridge to bridge, referring to the area between the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario and the MacArthur Bridge, which connects the city with Belle Isle Park.

The city within a city arose. The first tower of the Renaissance Center opened on July 1, 1976. Principal architect John Portman was also the architect for the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel and the Peachtree Center in Atlanta, Georgia; the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, California; and the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, California. For phase I, the facade of the first five towers was covered with 2,000,000 square feet (186,000 m2) of glass, and used about 400,000 cubic yards (310,000 m3) of concrete. This did not include the additional glass used for the atriums.

Phase I of the Renaissance Center cost $337 million to construct, employing 7,000 workers. In 1977, the central hotel tower of the Renaissance Center, which opened as the Western International Detroit Plaza Hotel, became the world's tallest all-hotel skyscraper, surpassing its architectural twin, the Peachtree Plaza Hotel in Atlanta (Western International Hotels became Westin in 1980). In 1986, what is today known as the Swissôtel The Stamford in Singapore surpassed it. Since 1986, the Renaissance Center's central tower has held the distinction as the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere.

On April 15, 1977, Henry Ford II and Detroit mayor Coleman Young unveiled a plaque commemorating the private investors whose funds made the project possible and, later that evening, 650 business and society leaders attended a benefit celebrating the Renaissance Center's formal dedication. The money raised from the $300-per-couple tickets went to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. When it opened, the cylindrical central tower was originally the flagship of the Westin Hotels. The top three floors of the hotel hosted an upscale restaurant, The Summit, that rotated to allow a 360 degree view. The shopping center in the podium originally housed boutiques, but now contains a greater complement of restaurants in the retail mix.

In 1980, Detroit hosted the Republican National Convention and presidential nominee Ronald Reagan and former President Gerald Ford both stayed at the Renaissance Center while in attendance.

Metro Detroit expanded upon the city within a city concept with the nearby 2,200,000 square feet (204,000 m2) Southfield Town Center office complex with its five inter-connected golden skyscrapers constructed from 1975 to 1989. In the ensuing years, the Renaissance Center would face competition from the growing suburban office market.

In 1987, the elevated Detroit People Mover transit line, after many years of construction, began operation with a stop at the Renaissance Center. At first, the Ford Motor Company had occupied many offices in the building. In 1996, General Motors purchased the complex and moved its world headquarters to the Renaissance Center downtown from what is now the historic Cadillac Place state office complex in the New Center district, northwest of downtown.

Architects' initial design for the Renaissance Center focused on creating secure interior spaces, while its design later expanded and improved to connect with the exterior spaces and waterfront through a reconfigured interior, open glass entryways, and a Wintergarden. By 2004, GM completed an extensive $500 million renovation of the Renaissance Center. This included a $100 million makeover for the hotel. Among GM's first actions was to remove the concrete berms facing Jefferson Avenue. The renovation includes a lighted glass walkway which encircles the interior mezzanine for ease of navigation, while the addition of the Wintergarden provides riverfront access and a view of Canada. A covered skyway over Jefferson Avenue connects to the Millender Center, Courtyard by Marriott - Downtown Detroit, and Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

The Renaissance Center is owned by General Motors. The hotel in the central tower is now managed by the Marriott hotel chain and is called the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. The 1,298 room hotel is one of the largest operated by Marriott. The rooftop restaurant (which no longer rotates) received a $10 million renovation and is operated by the Matt Prentice Restaurant Group's Coach Insignia. It serves Coach wines, a product of the Fisher family whose legacy includes Fisher Body, a name which is part of GM history.

The Renaissance Center's renovation provides for the prospect of continued development and restorations throughout the city. Architectural critics have touted the city's architecture as among America's finest.

In July 2010, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan announced plans to lease 435,245 square feet (40,435.6 m2) of Tower 500 and Tower 600 and relocate 3,000 of its employees from its building in Southfield, Michigan.


The Renaissance Center's modernist architecture balances the city's panoramic waterfront skyline, a frequent feature in photography taken from the Canadian city of Windsor, Ontario. From the top of the Renaissance Center's Coach Insignia restaurant, patrons peer down upon the neogothic spires of One Detroit Center and city's Financial District skyscrapers and stadiums. The view from the top extends for 30 miles (48 km) in all directions. A pedestrian walkway over Jefferson Avenue connects the complex to the Millender Center and leads beyond to the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. Hart Plaza, Cobo Center (home to the North American International Auto Show) and Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings, are several blocks to the west. Comerica Park and Ford Field, venues for the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions, respectively, are approximately one-mile north. The US portal of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel emerges adjacent to the western boundary of the Renaissance Center. Renaissance Center is a station on the Detroit People Mover.

In popular culture

In the 1989 film Collision Course starring Jay Leno and Pat Morita, the Renaissance Center was featured when Morita's character and Leno meet for the first time in which Morita is considered a suspect and chased through the beautiful hotel.

In the 1990 film adaptation of Presumed Innocent, there is a skyline view of Detroit very early in the film which clearly shows the Renaissance Center, filmed from across the river in Windsor, Ontario.

In the 1998 Steven Soderbergh film adaptation of Out of Sight, the main characters meet in the revolving restaurant atop the Renaissance Center. The scene was filmed on location.

The 1999 film Detroit Rock City has views of the Renaissance Center, which would have been newly constructed during the film's 1978 setting.

In 2004, the Renaissance Center was featured in the Kevin Costner and Joan Allen film The Upside of Anger. Costner's character plays a DJ for WRIF 101 FM, a real Detroit FM rock station, whose studio (in the film) is housed in the Renaissance Center. The Renaissance Center is also featured in the films Grosse Pointe Blank and Action Jackson.

For the 2005 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which was played at Comerica Park in Detroit, the center tower of the Renaissance Center was wrapped with an image of a large baseball smashing into the tower, with "4,612 FT" written below it to indicate the distance from home plate at Comerica Park (see photograph above). For Super Bowl XL, held at Detroit's Ford Field on February 5, 2006, a large National Football League logo was wrapped around the main tower just beneath the GM logo. The Renaissance Center also hosted the major media for Super Bowl XL. GM offered the Wintergarden a venue for the annual Fash Bash, a fashion event and fundraiser coordinated by the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Kid Rock's 2008 music video for "Roll On" featured the Renaissance Center along with several other well-known structures in Detroit. The History Channel's Life After People: The Series "Roads to Nowhere" episode featured the Renaissance Center. Renaissance Center replicas have become souvenir items along with other Detroit skyscrapers.

In 2010, the center was featured on the cover of Eminem's seventh studio album Recovery (Eminem album)

The Renaissance Center, along with other Detroit landmarks, appears frequently in the 2010 television drama Detroit 1-8-7.


The centerpiece is the 73-story 727-foot (221.5 m) luxury hotel with 1,246 rooms and 52 suites (1298 total guest rooms). Its height is measured from its main Wintergarden entrance on Atwater Street which faces the International Riverfront where the complex measures 14 feet (4.27 m) taller. Entirely owned by General Motors, the complex has 5,552,000 square feet (515,800 m2) of space. The main Renaissance Center complex rises from a 14-acre (5.7 ha) site. The complex is designed in the Modern architectural style with glass as a main material.

Famous for its cylindrical design, the central hotel tower's diameter is 188 feet (57 m). A lighted glass walkway radiates the mezzanine level and encircles the base of cylindrical hotel tower for ease of navigation. This ringed glass walkway is about 12 feet (3.7 m) wide and has a circumference of approximately 660 feet (200 m) or about one-eighth of a mile around. The ringed walkway's diameter is approximately 210 feet (64 m). It links to several other walkways in the complex. The five-story Wintergarden atrium leads into the central area which has an eight-story atrium lobby with artificial ponds, rounded concrete balconies, and terraces. Floors 71 through 73 include the Coach Insignia, an upscale restaurant with a lounge area/observation floor where the view extends for over 30 miles (48.3 km). The hotel has no floor labeled 7, 8, or 13. The hotel features a major conference center with 100,000 square feet (9,300 m2) of meeting space including a Renaissance Ballroom for up to 2,200 guests with 26,000 square feet (2,400 m2) for events, one of the largest in the United States.

John Portman designed the five-building rosette with interior spaces. In 1977, its central tower opened as the tallest hotel in the world. It remains the tallest all hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere. The smaller cylinders on sides of all the towers house the elevators. The four surrounding 39-story office towers (100-400) each reach 522 feet (159 m) and have a total of 2,200,000 square feet (204,400 m2) of space. Each 39 story tower has a base five-story podium structure with 165,000 square feet (15,300 m2) for retail space for a total of 660,000 square feet (61,000 m2). A portion of the central atrium area houses GM World, a show case for GM vehicles. Two 21-story towers (500-600), designed by Portman and constructed in 1981, reach 339 feet (103 m). GM gained control of Towers 500 and 600 in 2001. Tower 500 has 307,300 square feet (28,550 m2) of office space and an additional 14,485 square feet (1,350 m2) of retail space. Tower 600 has 304,200 square feet (28,260 m2) of office space and an additional 35,730 square feet (3,320 m2) of retail space.

Towers 100 and 200 are along Jefferson Avenue. Towers 300 and 400 are along the main Wintergarden/Atwater Street entrance facing the Riverfront. Tower 200 contains the Riverfront 4, a four-screen, first-run movie theatre, on the third floor of the tower. The Renaissance Club, a private club founded by Henry Ford II in 1987, is located on the 36th floor of the tower. The GM Renaissance Conference Center is located on the second floor of tower 300.

In December 2001, the General Motors Wintergarden retail atrium was unveiled. Designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill, it rises 103 feet (31.39 m) tall at its highest point opening direct access to the International Riverfront. In addition, the five-story Wintergarden atrium area, added in 2001, has 150,000 square feet (14,000 m2) devoted to retail with 40,000 square feet (3,700 m2) of contiguous main floor exhibit space which was used by the media during Super Bowl XL.


The redevelopment project included the work of many different architects including Skidmore, Owings & Merrill of Chicago, SmithGroup of Detroit, Gensler Detroit office, and Ghafari Associates of Dearborn who did the renovation of the office towers. The majority of the construction operations were led by Turner Construction Company. The structural glass and steel for the Wintergarden, the entrance lobby as well as the mezzanine glass walkway were contributed by Mero. The cost of the renovation does not include the cost for reconfiguring the streets around the Renaissance Center or the cost of the park along the International Riverfront.

The $500 million renovation of the Renaissance Center completed in 2003 has helped improve Detroit's economy. Together, GM's renovation of the Renaissance Center and the Detroit Riverwalk exceeded $1 billion; the project constituted a substantial investment in downtown. More than 10,000 people (of which 6,000 are GM employees) work in the complex. Nearly 2,000 state workers now occupy GM's former office building, the restored Cadillac Place, in the historic New Center district.

The Wintergarden added to the Renaissance Center faces the Riverfront and provides panoramic views of the Windsor skyline. The complex connects offices, the hotel, retail specialty shops, restaurants, a jazz club, and a movie theatre. A pedestrian-friendly glass entryway has replaced the former concrete berms along Jefferson Avenue. The redevelopment provides the GM World display of vehicles, a restored hotel, a renovated rooftop restaurant, and the addition of GM's corporate logo to crown the top of the building. Construction of the lighted glass walkway facilitates ease of navigation encircling the interior mezzanine. Hines completed redevelopment of Towers 500 and 600 for GM in 2004.

The Riverfront Promenade was dedicated on December 17, 2004, and helped to usher in a return to recreational uses along Detroit's International Riverfront. GM played a key role in the transformation of the east riverfront with a donation of $135 million to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy for the development of a world class riverfront promenade planned at $559 million, which included $50 million from the Kresge foundation. With the addition of several prominent restaurants and retailers to the complex – such as JoS. A. Bank Clothiers, Seldom Blues, and a first-run movie theatre – the RenCen has started to redefine Detroit once again for a new generation. In 2011, the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority opened its new state of the art cruise ship dock and passenger terminal on Hart Plaza, adjacent to the Renaissance Center. Port authority bonds financed another 1,500 space parking garage adjacent to the Renaissance Center. Further upriver, the Roberts Riverwalk Hotel faces the east riverfront. In addition to the gradual continuation of the riverfront promenade, other planned projects complementing the Renaissance Center continue along the International Riverfont which include development of luxury condominiums, a cruise ship passenger terminal, retail, and entertainment venues.

In 2011, the Renaissance Center added colored LED lighting on the top of its towers (Towers 500 and 600 utilize traditional blue floodlights to iluminate their top floors). General Motors added a large illuminated LED corporate logo which also displays GM divisions. The animated logo and illuminated LED color bands around the towers can be used to support special events and may be seen from Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. The renovation of Cobo Center convention and exhibit facility incorporates similar blue neon lighting along riverfront promenade.

Technical details
Notable Tenants
  • Arby's Unit #7226
  • Burger King #13332 (A-1042, opened August 1984)
  • McDonald's
  • Subway (A203, Tower 200)
  • Bank of America
  • Chase
  • Comerica Bank
  • Jos. A. Bank Clothiers
  • Au Bon Pain
  • United States Postal Service Renaissance Center Post Office
  • HP Enterprise Services administrative office (5th-7th floors)
  • Gateway Newsstands
  • CVS/pharmacy
  • Riverfront 4 Theatres
  • Coach Insignia restaurant - elevator to top floor of central tower accessed on level 3
  • Cherilynn's Gold Crown Hallmark
  • GMAC Insurance
  • GM University - Level 2
  • Renaissance Conference Center
  • Coach Insignia - elevator to central tower accessed on level 3
  • Seldom Blues Jazz & Supper Club
  • Consulate-General of Japan in Detroit
  • Dykema Gossett World Headquarters
  • Pure Detroit tourist gift store/The GM Collection Store
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
  • Consulate-General of Canada in Detroit is located in Suite 1100.
  • Andiamo Detroit Riverfront

Building Activity

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