But despite the bankruptcy, crime, urban desolation and despair, a different story is emerging. Slowly, the Detroit phoenix seems to be peeking from its very substantial ashes. Slowly, the Detroit phoenix seems to be peeking from its very substantial ashes.
The lunchtime walk from the MGM Grand is weird. It’s cold, there are no cars. It is reminiscent of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, where everyone stays inside — only the crazy or naive walk. Across the Detroit river is Canada. The smokestacks and stacked aerials are the perfect setting for a Springsteen song.
But at 1555 Broadway Street, just across from the Detroit Opera House, a once-famous building has become the lodestone for the city's regeneration, a coworking space that houses startups — even a company known as Twitter.
The M@dison Theater was originally built in 1917 and was crumbling away until it reopened in 2011. It was purchased by Dan Gilbert, the chairman of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans, the largest online retail mortgage lender in the U.S.
This followed Gilbert’s decision to move his Quicken Loans family of companies and 1,700 employees to Detroit in 2010. The M@dison’s purchase is part of a longstanding future commitment to the city.
“The Madison building project is another step in the … vision for a technology corridor of growth … in the heart of downtown Detroit," said Gilbert at the time of the M@dison’s opening. "This historic building will be molded into an exciting center where young entrepreneurial enterprises will collaborate, innovate and build the kind of 21st century businesses that our new economy in Detroit will be based upon."
In the interim two years, Gilbert’s vision has more than come to pass. Through Rock Ventures, the umbrella entity of Gilbert’s portfolio of companies, the company now owns more than 40 downtown properties, totalling nearly 8 million square feet. (Interestingly, one of those properties is the newly opened Greektown Casino.) Gilbert-owned businesses employ more than 11,500 people in the city.
Even on a bitterly freezing day, the M@dison building is impressive. Much of the original materials were used in its rebuild. Exposed steel beams add an industrial effect, and original graffiti graces the walls of the formerly abandoned site. There is also a cool rooftop area and a large event space, as well as the mandatory coffee machines and community games area.
The M@dison building has not only created a coworking space for tech entrepreneurs, its influence has become a household name: "the M@dison Effect." It's a phenomenon in which companies that have grown too big for the M@dison have moved into nearby offices. Block by block, Detroit’s tech scene is reviving a great city. Even Google moved in.
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