Sven Gustafson – Daily Detroit What To Know And Where To Go In Metro Detroit Sat, 15 Dec 2018 23:53:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Tour Inside The RenCen’s Little Brother, L.A.’s Westin Bonaventure Hotel Sat, 15 Dec 2018 23:48:11 +0000 I traveled to Los Angeles recently to cover the auto show and got to stay in a hotel in a familiar-looking building. You might recognize it from movies like “Strange Days,” “True Lies” or “Interstellar.” Or, if you’re a Detroiter, you might think, “what the hell is the RenCen doing set among palm trees?”

The Westin Bonaventure, located in downtown L.A., is kind of a smaller sibling to the Renaissance Center, both having been designed by architect John C. Portman. The Bonaventure opened in 1976, a year before the RenCen’s hotel opened — though technically, Tower 100 opened in ’76 as well. (There’s actually a third RenCen sibling as well: the 73-story Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta, which also opened in 1976. It looks exactly like the RenCen’s central tower, only it stands by itself, without smaller towers surrounding it.)

If you’ve spent any time inside the labyrinthine RenCen, the similarities with the Bonaventure quickly become apparent beyond just the space-age cylindrical glass exterior design. The first impression is that this is a much smaller version of the RenCen, about half as tall at 35 stories and less massive in terms of its footprint and overall scale. The basic layout is the same — four towers surrounding a central spire, just like the original RenCen layout (Towers 500 and 600, the twins to the east, were added later). And yes, there are glass elevators that run along the outsides of the towers.

Step inside and you find yourself in a lobby with a soaring atrium with a glass ceiling looking up at the towers, with a broad fountain feature and a bar and Starbucks counter ringing the base of the central tower. One neat feature: The hotel appears to have some kind of arrangement with LAX to serve as official lodging for flight crew members. One night while visiting the front desk, I saw an entire crew of an Asian (Korean, I guessed) airline enter the lobby with their rolling luggage, all the female flight attendants striking in teal blazers, black skirts and pillbox hats.

Just like the RenCen, there are ring-shaped concourses with floating pod areas branching off of them — though unlike the RenCen, these were simply empty spaces without seating. The first three floors are also a kind of self-contained indoor city, with ballroom and meeting spaces, retail stores, restaurants and so forth. It gives off a decidedly ‘80s shopping-mall vibe, especially with all the futuristic tube motifs.

The RenCen has a little of that, too, but less so since General Motors renovated the place after buying it in 1996. Ed Whitacre, who served as GM’s CEO during its bankruptcy reorganization, famously wrote that “The RenCen was the perfect metaphor for General Motors: overblown, overdone, complicated to the max.” The Bonaventure can also be tricky to navigate, but it’s not quite as bad — largely because it’s simply smaller, with less space to get lost in. But maybe it’s because I more or less know how to find my way around Portman’s cylinder and ringed concourse concepts by now.

It’s interesting to compare how the RenCen and the Bonaventure are viewed in their respective cities. The RenCen has been criticized over the years for being hard to navigate and for being separated from the rest of downtown by the former berms that acted like a wall between the building and East Jefferson. Free Press columnist John Gallagher wrote: “In terms of architecture and urban design, Portman’s Renaissance Center — four 39-story office towers surrounding a 73-story hotel built for $350 million in 1977 — created as many problems as it solved.”

The Bonaventure, by contrast, has been highly sought-after setting for many a Hollywood director — and legendary failed automotive entrepreneur John DeLorean, who had his DMC-12 gull-wing sports car photographed in front of it in 1978,

“From day one, the Bonaventure was a perennial favorite utopian paradise/dystopian nightmare, yet it’s managed to become a grudgingly loved part of the L.A. backlot,” L.A. Weekly wrote about it in 2016.

“Almost every weekend you’ll see car commercials shooting in the streets alongside the hotel, shiny new vehicles accelerating under the raised pedways that link to it, the early stages of a failed 1970s plan that nevertheless looks great to sell next year’s model.”

I don’t know anything about that failed ‘70s plan, but I’m guessing it might have something to do with the drawbacks of its immediate setting that I discovered one night when trying to find a restaurant that Google Maps told me was a mere two blocks away. The trouble is, two of the streets that bookend the Bonaventure come to a dead end at at parking structure right across the street from the hotel’s entrance. Except they don’t, because those streets have upper decks that allow them to cross over the nearby 110 freeway. But this isn’t at all clear from street level at the Bonaventure’s front doors. Confused, I asked someone for directions, and he told me to take the elevator to the top of the parking garage, walk around the plaza outside the YMCA at the top of it and then find the street I was looking for. Weird.

So in that way, both buildings are in some ways strange fits for their urban environments.

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PODCAST: Ground Breaks On Dan Gilbert’s Monroe Block Development. We Discuss Its Past, Present and Exciting Future Thu, 13 Dec 2018 23:28:57 +0000 The big news around Detroit today is the groundbreaking on the Monroe Block. That’s the two-block site adjacent to Campus Martius where Dan Gilbert and Bedrock plan an $830 million development to add 1.4 million square feet of housing, office, retail and public space.

On today’s podcast, we discuss the Monroe Block’s colorful history as a theater district, its mostly moribund present and its potentially very exciting future. Gilbert, through Bedrock Detroit, plans to build two new towers — a 35-story office tower, and a 17-story residential building — with a more than 1-acre central courtyard featuring landscaping, seating areas, a catwalk and retail and food amenities.

It will incorporate Farmer Street, which bisects the Monroe Block, but close it off to vehicle traffic.

The architects were asked to adhere closely to good urban-design principles. The result is an attempt to connect different downtown districts, bring in a mix of uses and create vibrant open spaces.

It’s something that a lot of downtown Detroit still lacks, frankly. Think of the relatively lifeless west side of downtown. Or the sea of surface parking lots that still comprise much of the CBD.

We encourage you to do a virtual fly-through in the video above, and you can of course listen to the episode in the player below.

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LISTEN: Comedy Central Axes ‘Detroiters,’ Doner Agency’s Actual CEO Weighs In Wed, 12 Dec 2018 01:51:43 +0000

It’s a sad day for Detroiters who were fan of the TV show of the same name. Comedy Central today opted against bringing the buddy comedy “Detroiters” back for a third season, co-star Sam Richardson announced via Twitter.

On today’s show, we wax nostalgic about the beloved but short-lived show.

Jer speaks with David DeMuth, president and CEO of Southfield-based Doner. That’s the real-life ad agency that was the arch-nemesis of the show’s fictional Cramblin Duvet advertising firm.

How’d the show settle on Doner as its foil?

Elsewhere, we report on the other news that has Detroit talking — that HopCat is doing away with its popular Crack Fries out of deference to the reality that crack is a horribly addictive drug that has devastated families and whole neighborhoods in places like Detroit. The actual fries and recipe will remain, however. Which leads us to talk about our favorite fries.

Yes, our show today gets absurd, fast.

Elsewhere, we run down:

  • A new snow-plowing protocol in the notoriously under-plowed city of Detroit
  • A planned expansion of Oakland Community College’s downtown Royal Oak campus (the Daily Tribune has the full story)
  • The Detroit auto show inks a seven-year deal keeping it at Cobo through 2026
  • And some holiday fun including Santa Claus, beer tasting and classic arcade video games are coming to the Fisher Building lobby on Saturday
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PODCAST: $35M To Help 7 Detroit Neighborhoods, Condado Tacos Coming To Royal Oak, Mosaic Founder Retires Mon, 10 Dec 2018 23:44:16 +0000

On today’s show:

Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund gets a $35 million infusion from seven companies in what’s said to be the largest corporate donation to Detroit neighborhoods, ever.

The city will splash the cash in seven new east- and westside neighborhoods to strengthen housing and commercial districts. It’s part of Mayor Duggan’s “20-minute neighborhoods” initiative, which aims to redevelop neighborhoods into places where residents can walk or bike to do their errands, get to transit and visit a park within 20 minutes.

Elsewhere, downtown Royal Oak is getting a new taco joint. Columbus, Ohio-based Condado Tacos aims to open next spring.

And last but not least, we speak with Rick Sperling, who has announced his retirement after what will be nearly 27 years leading Mosaic Youth Theater of Detroit. Sperling talks about how the nonprofit arts and youth-development outfit has evolved from when he founded it in 1992 and what he’s most proud of.

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PODCAST: GM’s Monday Massacre And The Closure Of Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Tue, 27 Nov 2018 01:26:06 +0000

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General Motors dropped a bomb on Monday, saying it will likely close three assembly plants including Detroit-Hamtramck in a pre-emptive move to cut costs and headcount ahead of an expected downturn.

The moves mean the elimination of as many as 14,000 jobs — including 1,500 at Detroit-Hamtramck — and the elimination of slow-selling sedans like the Chevrolet Volt and Impala and the Buick LaCrosse. A transmission plant in Warren could also close.

It’s a particularly dubious cap to the saga of the Poletown plant, which rose during the 1980s after the two cities it straddles worked with GM to condemn and raze a working-class neighborhood of the same name.

On today’s episode, we speak with Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski, who tells us the closure leaves a city defined by the auto industry without any actual auto manufacturing. It also leaves Detroit without an open auto-assembly plant. In fact, here’s Mayor Mike Duggan statement about it:

“This morning I spoke to Mary Barra and she advised me for the first time of the situation at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant. The news is troubling. I have spoken to UAW President Gary Jones and the city’s economic development team. They are working together to come up with a solution that works for GM and the employees. We all know there is strong demand for manufacturing space in Detroit and we are willing to work with GM to fill all the available manufacturing space at Poletown with either GM-related entities or other companies.”

You can also read the UAW’s statement here.

We also speak with auto analyst Michelle Krebs of Autotrader to learn about the business rationale behind the move.

And finally, tech guru Nuri Gocay joins us to shed some light on where General Motors is actually adding jobs (hint: It ain’t in Detroit).

Enjoy today’s episode in the player above, or subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. And if you like what we’re doing and want to support us, check us out at Patreon

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PODCAST: Dan Gilbert’s Point Man On Reforming Michigan’s No-Fault Auto Insurance Wed, 21 Nov 2018 02:40:58 +0000

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Dan Gilbert made headlines this week when he issued an ultimatum to state lawmakers: Find a fix for Michigan’s broken no-fault auto insurance system by mid-2019 or I’ll bankroll an effort to put a proposal on the statewide ballot in 2020.

On today’s show, Jer interviews Jared Fleisher, vice president of government relations for the Quicken Loans Family of Companies, about why Gilbert and Quicken are jumping into the fray.

Fleisher, who is running point for Gilbert’s push to overhaul no-fault, says Quicken has 17,000 employees working in the city and has invested $3.5 billion to date in Detroit. He calls auto insurance reform “the single biggest but also most solvable barrier to the growth of the city.”

He also draws a comparison between Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance system and the much-criticized Obamacare health overhaul. Fleisher says that while the Affordable Care Act requires people to buy insurance, it offers them a choice of benefit levels to pay for. Michigan’s auto insurance law similarly requires that every driver be covered, but it essentially forces everyone to buy the top-tier “platinum” level of benefits.

We spoke last month on the pod with attorney Steve Gursten, the head of Michigan Auto Law, all about Michigan’s no-fault auto insurance system and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s recent federal lawsuit accusing it of being unconstitutional. Gursten argues that Duggan’s suit has a real chance of prevailing, but he says it’s tough to know how to fix the law without more transparency into insurance company practices.

Many previous efforts to reform Michigan’s no-fault system have run into a brick wall, but now it seems no-fault may be on a collision course with the forces of change.

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PODCAST: Inside Downtown’s New Restaurant Besa & Detroit’s Most Instagrammable Places Thu, 15 Nov 2018 21:33:52 +0000

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Devon O’Reilly, international man of intrigue, is Daily Detroit’s Man About Town. He joins us today for a week-ending episode devoted to the things that truly matter: Where to eat, what to drink and where are the best place around town to broadcast your every waking moment to the world on Instagram.

O’Reilly gives us the lowdown on Besa, one of Detroit’s newest restaurants. It just opened for business inside the refurbished Vinton Building, with a killer wine list, a raw bar and a dish that fuses scallops and a sauce made of — get this — white chocolate.

Elsewhere, we discuss his list of favorite and least-favorite glassware, including why in God’s name any bar would serve a mixed drink in a footed Irish coffee mug.

And last but not least, the holiday season is upon us, ready or not. That means lots of twinkly lights, mistletoe, garland and beaucoup opportunities to Instagram your smiling mug, personal brand or current status to the whole wide world. Where are the best places in Detroit to set an Instagram pic? We offer our suggestions.

Find Daily Detroit wherever you get your favorite podcasts. Tell your friends and family about us, and don’t forget to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts.

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PODCAST: 4 Things To Know And 3 Places To Go In Detroit Mon, 12 Nov 2018 22:57:12 +0000

Welcome to the work week, automatons!

On today’s episode, we talk about the report Moody’s Investors Services released on Detroit, which essentially asks where’s the love (and money) for the neighborhoods.

Some development news: In Ferndale, craft beer retailer 8 Degrees Plato says it will close it store on Nine Mile by the end of the year. The beer will continue to flow at the Cass Corridor location, however. And in Northville, there’s a battle brewing over the proposed demolition of a historic mid-century modern school.

That internet prank we told you about involving the Google results for Wyandotte Police Department? It’s been fixed, but we solicit Downriver denizen and tech wizard/vlogger Tom Lawrence to try and get to the bottom of it.

Shianne Nocerini fills us in on the new sculpture “Divergence” by artist Adriana Ohar. You can see it at New Center Park. 

We have deets on this year’s big Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which takes place Friday at Campus Martius, with concurrent activities taking place over at Beacon Park on the other side of downtown Detroit. THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR and all that.

Lastly, Sven interviews Dannis Mitchell of Barton Malow about the “Ready. Set. Build” workforce expo that takes place Wednesday at Cobo Center. It’s all about helping to connect people with jobs in the skilled trades, where developers are also seeing a shortage of qualified employees.

Find Daily Detroit wherever you get your favorite podcasts. Don’t forget to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts.

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LISTEN: Michigan’s Blue Wave & Legal Marijuana, Explained Wed, 07 Nov 2018 22:45:11 +0000

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It was a big Election Day here in Michigan, where the much-discussed “blue wave” helped sweep Democrats — all of them women — into the top statewide elected offices. A fourth, Debbie Stabenow, survived a closer-than-expected battle to win re-election to the U.S. Senate.

We’re devoting today’s episode 100 percent to post-election results and analysis. Occasional host and Daily Detroit spirits advisor Nuri Gocay joins Jer and I to break down the results. He also talks about his experience shuttling people to and from the polls as a volunteer with the Detroit Bus Co.

Later, I speak with Oakland University political science professor David Dulio. He helps provide context for Gretchen Whitmer’s comfortable win over Republican Bill Schuette, the importance of suburban voters and the prospects for divided state government, with the state House and Senate remaining under GOP control.

We also break down the three ballot proposals, which all sailed to approval, including the Proposal 2 anti-gerrymandering initiative and Proposal 3, which will make it easier to vote. I interview medical marijuana expert and attorney Denise Pollicella about Proposal 1, which will make recreational marijuana legal in Michigan.

Pollicella says the licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries has been an overly complicated mess in Michigan, but she credits the drafters of Prop 1 for restricting the state’s ability to interfere in the new recreational cannabis industry. Still, she says the first recreational marijuana dispensaries aren’t likely to open their doors before spring 2020.

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PODCAST: Election Day, I-696 Construction May Not Be Finished By Christmas, Amazon HQ2 Splits In Two & Mable Gray Tue, 06 Nov 2018 22:32:59 +0000

Happy Election Day, Detroit! If you haven’t already, go out and exert your privilege as a resident of the world’s greatest democracy. The polls are open until 8 p.m.

On today’s show, we run down some news about long lines and voting machine hiccups across the region. Reports of long lines are widespread.

Elsewhere, Amazon HQ2 is said to be headed to the New York City and Washington D.C. areas as a split second headquarters. That’s given critics plenty of fodder, as we discuss. Remember when Detroit and Windsor joined forces to bid on HQ2? We had a great Happy Hour episode breaking down our fair city’s failure to crack the top 20. It’s so worth a listen.

Officials from the Michigan Department of Transportation are hedging on an end date to the never-ending I-696 construction project.

An upcoming fundraiser dinner at the DIA celebrates the food and art of Italy.

And our own Shianne Nocerini gives us the lowdown on a delicious private dinner created by chef James Rigato at Mabel Gray.

Find Daily Detroit wherever you get your favorite podcasts. Don’t forget to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts.

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