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Summer 2005

Matt Cullen '83: "Each of us can make a difference."

L to R: Judith Atwood, president, CBA Student Advisory Board; Bahman Mirshab, dean, CBA; Barbara Shipp-Clark '94; Joseph Berkowski '73; Matt Cullen '83; William P. Young '90; James Kirby '92.

Speaking to a capacity crowd for this year's CBA Alumni Week keynote address, Matt Cullen, general manager of Economic Development and Enterprise Services at General Motors Corporation, detailed his company's efforts to revitalize Detroit and make the City more attractive for businesses and investment. Cullen, who has been with GM since 1979, is also co-chair of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and chairman of the board of the East Riverfront Study Group.

Says Cullen, "At GM, we believe it's our responsibility to help communities help themselves. Our size and collective experience allow us to serve as leaders in planning or developing projects or even generating ideas for renewal. Our work right here in Detroit may be the best example of how GM fulfills its responsibilities."

That work began in 1996 when GM was looking for a new world headquarters. Detroit was in bad shape, but, says Cullen, "the Ren Cen was only 20 years old and had the best location in the City, and purchasing the complex would immediately give us enough space. However, any visitor to the building knows it was distinctly user-unfriendly."

After purchasing the complex, Cullen continues, ""GM established three criteria that would have to be met for the move to be considered a success: ensuring the future of the New Center area, transforming the Ren Cen into a world-class global headquarters, and serving as a catalyst for growth and development in the City."

Nine years later…

  1. the New Center is thriving, not least because of GM's various investments and donations over and above buying the Ren Cen. These include a $100 million investment in the area, and donations of the former GM HQ to the State of Michigan and the former Chevrolet Creative Services building to Wayne State University's Research and Technology Park.
  2. GM's headquarters has been called "a destination attraction" (Windsor Star) and "clearly unique" (Detroit Free Press). The renovated Ren Cen includes a suspended glass "circulation ring" which allows movement from one tower to another; a five-story atrium, the Wintergarden; many new businesses, for a total of approximately 70 retailers and restaurants; and the Jefferson Avenue lobby and GM pavilion, which replaced the berms.
  3. GM, Cullen says, "changed the conversation about Detroit. There are literally billions of dollars of new investment." He cites Campus Martius and the lower Woodward and Midtown areas as examples of the growth GM inspired. GM is also seeking developers to create new residential, retail and office space in the 26 acres east of the Ren Cen. The company is working with the City to improve infrastructure, and with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy to redevelop the riverfront from MacArthur Bridge at Belle Isle to the Ambassador Bridge.

The Riverfront, says Cullen, "is the project I am most passionate about. Ultimately, we want to create six miles of public space along the Detroit River from Cobo Hall to MacArthur Bridge." GM — along with many other government and private-sector partners ——is engaged in the first phase of this multi-year, multi-billion dollar plan. A marina has already been dedicated, and the Riverwalk, three miles of public access to the River, is scheduled for completion in 2006. "We are transforming the City's greatest natural asset to attract even more people and investment," Cullen says.

"With the conviction to roll up your sleeves and do what it takes, you see your efforts begin to pay off. Each of us can make a difference. As Winston Churchill said, ' We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.'"

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