Making the Move

The heart of Detroit's business district is beating a lot faster after last week's announcement that another major firm is relocating downtown.

The move of Marketing Associates from West Bloomfield to downtown is quite a coup for Detroit and proof of just how far downtown Detroit has come in a relatively short time. The firm, which employs 140 now with plans for expansion, will be housed in the One Kennedy Square Building.

Ten years ago much of the city's center was underachieving, to put it nicely. New and growing companies did not have downtown Detroit on a short list of destinations.

But a decade's worth of investment counted in the billions of dollars, attractive tax breaks that save companies millions and an increasing cosmopolitan vibrancy have made the area quite attractive to new businesses and residents today.

Detroit's downtown isn't comparable to central business districts of other major American metropolises, like Chicago or San Francisco. Not yet. But 10 years ago, a CEO from Oakland County would likely not have said this at a press conference that had the buzz usually reserved for an appearance by a pop star:

"We are thrilled to join the ranks of companies already enjoying the rebirth of downtown Detroit," said Mark Petroff, president and CEO of Marketing Associates. The conference was held last Thursday at One Kennedy Square. "Moving here fosters a greater sense of community for our employees. From being part of a vibrant business district to the social benefits of working downtown, we are creating an environment designed to inspire and motivate, which we hope will retain employees and ultimately, promote growth for the company."

Let's make a deal

Petroff boiled down the reasons his firm moved to downtown to three key points: vibrancy, quality infrastructure and best deal available.

That's right, someone just said Detroit offered the best deal for a company's growing business. A 140-person firm that expects to increase its staff by 20 percent in less than a year and to a total of 225 employees in the near future chose Detroit over numerous other places throughout the metro area. That means that Detroit not only competed with the Troys, Birminghams and West Bloomfields. but it won. Why? It is just good business, Petroff said.

"This was at its most basic level an economic decision," he said. "This deal was the best one out there."

Tax breaks made that possible. Marketing Associates will take advantage of an 8.5-year Renaissance Zone tax incentive and other abatements, which will allow the company to significantly defray the state's new business tax.

Marketing Associates says it loves One Kennedy Square, often called the Ernst & Young Building, calling its 50,000 square feet a clean slate on which to work. Downtown's newest office building, built in 2006, offers 10 stories with 250,000 square feet of now fully leased Class A office space overlooking Campus Martius.

It's plugged into a lot of new high-tech infrastructure utilized by a number of corporate neighbors, such as Compuware. These neighbors played a big part in making a move downtown attractive not only because of the support they offer but the opportunities they present. Marketing Associates, a technology-enabled marketing firm, hopes to diversify its client list from its base of automotive companies to some of the other businesses nearby, a list that could increase if more firms follow suit and move downtown (Quicken Loans and ePrize, we're looking at you.)

One Kennedy Square was designed with independent heating and cooling systems on each floor, making the building more energy efficient. However, its environmentally friendly characteristics don’t go much beyond that. It's a step forward for Detroit office space but not far enough when towers like Tierra Place, set to start construction in Ann Arbor next spring, are turning competitors almost as green (with envy) as its design values.

Best yet to come?

What is starting to make other communities jealous is downtown Detroit's rapidly increasing density and vitality — an attribute suburban corporate parks just don't have an answer for. This is what Marketing Associates says it desires. The average age of the firm's employees range between 26 and 30, an age group that stereotypically wants to live, work and play in urban areas.

"We have a young work force," Petroff said. "I have a bunch of Generation X and Generation Y employees who find satisfaction from work by linking their social network with their work network. When you work in a suburban, stand-alone building, it's hard to make that connection. It's hard to get a group of folks out and walk across the street for a beer. It doesn't exist in the suburbs. You have to drive everywhere."

There are of course the questions about losing employees who don't want to make the move. Worries about taxes, parking, commutes and safety were raised. To counter that, Marketing Associates is giving its employees a 1.5 percent raise, paying for parking, working with Compuware's car-pool program and introducing its employees to downtown through events with other local companies.

But Petroff said he expects to lose only a handful of employees, if any. In fact, he said most of his employees are excited about the move and even thinking of moving to the downtown area.

It's good that experiencing downtown is the key to Detroit selling itself, but the city needs to get to the point where those questions aren't relevant. That will likely happen as more and more people shift their focus to downtown, where corporate tenants and city officials alike are banking that the best is yet to come.

Jon Zemke is a frequent contributor to Model D.


Campus Martius with One Kennedy Square

Taking time out for lunch at Campus Martius

A Game of Petanque at the newly renovated Cadillac Square

Working in Campus Martius in front of Compuware

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, from the Civil War era, in front of the new One Kennedy Square

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

Read more articles by Jon Zemke.

Jon Zemke is a news editor with Model D and its sister publications, Metromode and Concentrate. He's also a small-scale real-estate developer and landlord in the greater downtown Detroit area.
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