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Detroiters hope firms can help lift city

Downtown Detroit.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Today's news about General Motors and its pending IPO is welcome indeed in and around Detroit, Mich. Anything that's good for GM -- the theory being -- has to be good for Detroit. After years on the decline, thanks in large part to the auto industry's troubles, things may finally be turning around in Detroit. The insurance giant Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan is planning to move 3,000 workers into the city next year. And today, the country's biggest online mortgage company is relocating to downtown Detroit, too.

From Michigan Radio, Sarah Hulett reports.


Sounds of drilling and hammering

SARAH HULETT: The smell of fresh paint, carpet glue and drywall dust hang in the air as Bill Emerson, CEO of Quicken Loans, surveys his new corporate headquarters.

BILL EMERSON: We're actually standing, I think, in the lobby. Kind of standing on a nice little artistic version of some word that I can't read.

The word is "Quicken," rendered in graffiti script on the floor. Starting today, about 1,700 Quicken employees will move into this glass tower owned by the software company Compuware, which moved its own headquarters here in 2003.

EMERSON: We really believe that we can create some momentum around getting technology companies to the city of Detroit.

City officials hope Quicken's move will help revive stalled efforts to redevelop downtown. Early last decade, hundreds of millions in public and private funds went into building two new sports stadiums and giving makeovers to long-neglected streets and parks.

Then the recession hit, and the revitalization efforts ground to a halt. So a couple thousand newly occupied cubicles is welcome news. But they probably won't translate into amenities other major cities take for granted and Detroiters long for -- like a major chain grocery or a department store.

Olga Stella is an executive vice president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.

OLGA STELLA: Office tenants are not going to drive significant retail development, because large retailers really look at households first.

And so far, there's not much evidence corporate relocations are drawing new residents. Compuware estimates that only about 200 of its 4,000 employees who work in Detroit live there.

Still, some Quicken employees, like Yvonne Kasgoris and James Petrone, plan to make downtown Detroit their home.

YVONNE KASGORGIS: This is our place.

Their loft in the former Eureka Vacuum Company building has stained concrete floors and big windows that offer a view of the Detroit Opera House. It sits above a busy restaurant and a brew pub that are popular with young professionals.

JAMES PETRONE: We had been coming down and just checking out different bars and restaurants. And when Quicken announced the move, we decided, "Hey let's really look at a place we'd like to live."

And they're just a five minute walk to work. Local businesses hope the couple and other Quicken employees will help boost sales. One of those is American Coney Island.

CUSTOMER: I need three fries. One chili cheese fry.

Grace Keros's grandfather opened this lunch counter in 1917. Now, she runs the business. Keros says when the sports stadiums opened several years ago, the restaurant's famed Coneys -- for the uninitiated, those are hot dogs with chili, mustard and onion -- started flying off the grill.

GRACE KEROS: Huge difference. Huge, huge difference. Compuware, we saw a difference.

Compuware estimates its employees have pumped $15 million into downtown's economy through spending on things like lunches and pharmacy trips. Keros expects to see a similar economic infusion from Quicken.

KEROS: We already have people coming in from Quicken that say, "We're going to be down here, we can't wait, 'cause now we get to have Coney Islands."

And she's already looking forward to winning over the next wave of new "Coney" fans when Blue Cross/Blue Shield's headquarters opens next year.

In Detroit, I'm Sarah Hulett for Marketplace.

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"... when Blue Cross/Blue Shield's headquarters 'opens' next year."

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