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Core Support

BCBSM’s relocation helped spark revitalization
By James Martinez

Page 26
As successful recovery efforts in other American cities such as Pittsburgh have demonstrated, the commitment of high-profile corporations and CEOs is crucial to revitalizing an urban center. Few have been more critical to Detroit’s recent downtown resurgence than Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) and Dan Loepp.

In 2010, as Detroit was recoiling from the bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors, BCBSM under Loepp’s leadership made a decision to expand its Detroit campus, bringing about 3,400 additional employees downtown. The move, which took just two years to complete, provided a boost to both the iconic Renaissance Center and the city.

On the micro level, it reduced the amount of vacant Class-A office space in the central business district by six percent, bringing thousands of employees downtown to spark the local economy. On the macro level, it helped restore confidence in the city rocked by the once unimaginable auto bankruptcies. Having a prominent corporation that called downtown home for more than 70 years recommit to the city sent a clear message that Detroit remains a great place to do business.

Loepp said collaboration and cooperation have been the backbone behind the revitalization of the city.
“Our efforts have yielded results because they’re collaborative with the efforts of others who also believe in Detroit and Michigan’s core cities. When people work together, things get done,” Loepp stated. “In every major investment the Blues have made, there has been consistent collaboration between business, municipal and civic leadership. These efforts, combined with the numerous other success stories, create energy, excitement and the forward progress we’re seeing in Detroit.”

Following the move, BCBSM has approximately 6,400 employees working downtown, making it one of the biggest employers in the city’s central business district with a unique footprint. The campus now includes Towers 500 and 600 of the GM Renaissance Center, an office building on Jefferson Avenue, and the two-building headquarters complex on Lafayette Boulevard.

The BCBSM commitment to the city is reflected by Loepp in an excerpt of a blog post he wrote as the move was completed: “… Blue Cross is proud to join a growing list of companies that are putting stakes in the ground and betting on the city’s future. We’re proud to be home in the D. And I’m proud to say, Detroit is open for business.”

In addition to its direct economic impact, the move also demonstrated how private sector investments can have a ripple effect in the area. The move helped make the city healthier and safer by:
• Improving and opening up the entrance to Renaissance Center Towers 500 and 600, making it a much more walkable destination;
• Promoting a 1.3-mile walking route called BLUpath that connects buildings on the BCBSM campus;
• Working with downtown partners to get L-E-D street lamps installed for blocks around the Renaissance Center area and on Beaubien along the BLUpath connecting the BCBSM campus.

BCBSM has invested and is active in several of Michigan’s other core cities. Other projects include: the redevelopment in 2004 of the vacant Steketee’s department store in Grand Rapids into a thriving office center for BCBSM West Michigan operations, the redevelopment of the vacant Lansing Board of Water & Light power station into Accident Fund’s national headquarters, and the renovation of the former Accident Fund headquarters in downtown Lansing now serves as BCBSM’s Lansing operations office center.

James Martinez is editor of the Detroiter.