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Dan Gilbert buys Federal Reserve building in Detroit

(Detroit Free Press) - Quicken Loans founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert announced his purchase of one building and celebrated the grand reopening of a second Monday as he continued his campaign to turn downtown Detroit into a digital entrepreneurial hub.

Gilbert told reporters that his Rock Ventures LLC would close this week on the historic Federal Reserve building at 160 W. Fort St. He did not disclose a purchase price.

The purchase makes the ninth building that Gilbert and his partners have acquired since he moved Quicken Loans’ headquarters into downtown’s Compuware buildings in 2010. He said his plans for the Federal Reserve building include renovating it and using it to attract new companies to downtown.

Gilbert spoke during a tour of the newly renovated M@dison, a 50,000-square-foot building that Gilbert bought and renovated in a $12-million project to create an entrepreneurial hub. The building has been renamed the M@dison, with the “@” used to emphasize the building’s focus on the digital world.

The tenants include the Gilbert-affiliated Detroit Venture Partners, an investment firm that funds digital start-ups, as well as Detroit Labs, producer of applications for mobile phones and tablets, plus a roster of smaller entrepreneurial ventures.

With an edgy industrial design and high-energy graphics and furniture, the M@dison will serve as a showcase for Gilbert's dream of a digital entrepreneurial economy in downtown Detroit.

“This is the prototype of hopefully more buildings like this to come,” Gilbert said during the tour. “It’s about connectivity. It’s about having the right environment, the right culture, for these companies to work together to create wealth in the new economy.”

Originally known as the Madison Theatre when it was built in 1917, the building was one of many downtown tied to the theater industry, designed by famed architect C. Howard Crane. Neumann/Smith Architects and Doodle Home, an online interiors firm headed by Gilbert’s wife Jennifer, created an industrial chic look for the new space that exposes the original concrete floors, tile ceilings and steel beams along with a variety of high-energy graphics and an open floor plan.

One of the tenants, Skidmore Studio, a graphic design firm founded in Detroit in 1959, moved to the building last fall from its suburban location to become the M@dison’s first tenant. Tim Smith, president and CEO of Skidmore, told reporters Monday that his team’s work has gotten stronger since moving from the suburbs into the M@dison.

“Once we were down here, the work elevated itself because of the emotion of being here,” Smith told reporters during the tour. “I think Skidmore has been known as a creative force here in Detroit for a long time, but to have a client say, ‘You guys were always good but now I’m seeing a whole different level of work,’ that’s a very rewarding thing.”

Josh Linkner, managing partner of Detroit Venture Partners, said some of the start-ups at the M@dison may one day become huge businesses. He cited online discount firm Groupon as an example of what could happen.

“Groupon in three years created over 10,000 jobs,” he said. “If we have a couple hits, not even of that magnitude but reasonable hits, that’s going to start to say something pretty big about this region.”

Linkner told reporters that Gilbert isn’t looking for a quick return on his investment in the M@dison. Rather, Gilbert hopes real estate values rise as downtown transforms into a digital entrepreneurial hub.


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