The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 30, 2012

Chase Tower distinguishes itself, again

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

DETROIT – If ever there was a building that’s a study in contrasts in the downtown area, it’s the Chase Tower.

Those contrasts include the building’s renovated interior, the Modern exterior, and now, the fact that there are a lot more people working inside.

With Detroit’s downtown office occupancy stagnant or declining in recent years, Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert made the against-the-grain decision to move some 1,500 of his employees from the suburbs to the 14-story mid-rise tower beginning last October.

To create suitable space for those new arrivals, renovations have been ongoing since last May at the 505,000-square-foot Chase Tower by general contractor Sachse, its subcontractors and the building trades. Bedrock Real Estate Services, an affiliate of Quicken, is handling the property management.  With the building expected to be handed over to the owner on March 28, work was quickly wrapping up on the Chase Tower’s renovation this month.

“I doubt that this building has seen a renovation this extensive since it opened,” said Sachse Project Supt. Ben Ealy. “Basically, every floor we worked on was completely gutted. We kept the stone around the elevators doors, but everything else was completely re-done.”

Quicken Loans will use the reconfigured space to advance its lending business, and make a more collaborative, comfortable working environment for employees. And the interior environment is probably unlike any other workplace in Michigan. Bright, contrasting colors abound in the hallways and work areas. One section of office suites on the seventh floor is designated by names of 1980s-era video games. Some hallway walls are decorated with wooden tiles of contrasting color. Throughout the building, bright, contrasting colors and fixtures among offices and office furniture and general décor seem to be the rule. “It’s a very bright, happy, upbeat atmosphere,” Ealy said.

With the interior floors stripped down to the concrete, the trades installed new flooring, walls and fixtures to meet Quicken’s needs. A significant amount of spray-on soundproofing was applied between floors.  The building also received new heating and cooling equipment for the forced-air system.

Approximately 200 Hardhats worked on the project at peak employment. “It’s been a good project to work on, we’ve enjoyed working with Bedrock and the trades have been great,” Ealy said. 

If the walls could talk, all that color on its floors above the lobby might come as a bit of shock to the Chase Building, which started out with interior finishes that were conservative and befitting of the bank that originally owned it – the former National Bank of Detroit.

But outside, when the block-long building was complete in 1959, the glass and marble exterior was a bit of a gamechanger for architecture in downtown Detroit. With the exception of a few other Modern-style buildings downtown, the Chase Tower place in the city’s Financial District is a stark contrast to the traditional granite, limestone, brick and terra-cotta-clad pre-Depression-era skyscrapers that dominate Detroit’s skyline.

“After the long dry spell of the Depression years and World War II, buildings started up again in Detroit” by 1959, says AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture, “the new headquarters for the National Bank of Detroit showed how much the world of architecture had changed in the interim. Gone were the Gothic and Romanesque motifs. In their place, the NBD headquarters rose behind a checkered curtain-wall of glass and white marble panels – one of the first windows designed with a staggered window pattern. …Modernism had clearly arrived in Detroit.”

Located at 611 Woodward Ave. between Congress and Fort St., the design of the Chase Bank exterior may be an acquired taste. “There are some buildings,” says Detroit1701, “that almost take your breath away because of the innovations of the brilliant architects who designed them.  There are other buildings that you recognize as innovative, but you are quite glad the innovation was not repeated.  This structure may fit into the latter category.”

Architects can argue about how the building fits into downtown Detroit, but there’s no arguing the value of having thousands of extra workers downtown. Gilbert has loudly pushed for businesses to come back to downtown Detroit, and he’s led the way by buying up, renovating and populating existing buildings with workers. In 2010, Quicken moved their new headquarters, and 1,700 employees, into the Compuware Building, across Campus Martius Park from the Chase Tower. Even more employees from Quicken’s sister companies will occupy space in the nearby First National Building and the Madison Theatre Building. When all the buildings are occupied, Quicken and its family of companies will have brought 4,000 workers to downtown Detroit.

Quicken is the nation’s largest online retail mortgage lender and among the five largest overall retail home lenders in the U.S.

Completing the renovation work at the Chase Tower “marks the next step in the effort to transform downtown Detroit into a work, live and play epicenter where young professionals come to plant roots and grow their careers,” said Gilbert. “More and more people, investors and businesses are joining the initiative to build something very special here.”

Along with Quicken Loans, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. will continue to occupy parts of Chase Tower.  The building will boast a world-class cafeteria on the eighth floor, and plans call for the first floor to be redesigned and redeveloped to accommodate pedestrian-friendly retail space along Woodward Avenue.

 “We are thrilled to have the commitment of Dan Gilbert and Quicken Loans, said Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. “This is a significant investment and another step forward as we work to attract businesses and create jobs in Detroit.”

BUILT IN THE MODERN style in 1959, Detroit’s Chase Tower’s “cheese grater” exterior stands out in front of two of the city’s classic 1920s-era skyscrapers, the Guardian Building, left, and the Penobscot Building, right.

FINISHING A TILE wall in the Chase Tower’s 8th floor cafeteria is Mark Miller of BAC Local 1, working for B & B Tile. The colorful light globes typify the quirky design scheme used in the building’s renovation.

A SNEEZE GUARD in the 8th floor cafeteria is lifted into place by a team of Sheet Metal Workers Local 80 members, working for Great Lakes Hotel and Kitchen Supply. They include (l-r) Tim Koester, Jeff Gartrelle, Mark Vella, Tim Donia and Jamie Gartrelle.