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GM logos atop Detroit’s RenCen have gone dark: Here’s why

In case you didn't notice, the three neon-blue General Motors logo signs high atop the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit have gone dark.

For those who have noticed, it's created some speculation on social media as to whether the automaker is abandoning its world headquarters building. The short answer is no, said GM spokeswoman Tara Stewart Kuhnen.

"The Renaissance Center remains GM’s global headquarters with additional operations in Warren and Milford," Kuhnen told the Detroit Free Press in an email. She is referring to the GM Global Technical Center in Warren and the GM Proving Ground in Milford Township.

A sign at the top of the General Motors Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit is being worked on as the sun sets on the building on Monday, November 13, 2023.
A sign at the top of the General Motors Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit is being worked on as the sun sets on the building on Monday, November 13, 2023.

GM owns five of the seven iconic glass towers along the downtown Detroit riverfront. Its world headquarters are in four of them and the Marriott Hotel is in the fifth, Kuhnen said. The reason the top of Detroit's most recognizable building is barren is because GM is "replacing the icons on the building one at a time as a part of routine maintenance," said GM spokesman Kevin Kelly.

Kelly told the Free Press there is nothing "symbolic" by the lack of GM's moniker atop the building.

"The frame is still up there, it’s the screens that are being replaced," Kelly said. "So nothing came down."

He said the screens on the three GM logo signs that circle the top are gone so that new LED technology can be installed. Kelly was not sure when the project started but he said inquiries about the dark signs first came in to GM in August when the project was already underway. GM had initially planned for the new technology and screens to be installed by winter, but it's a "labor intensive project due to the electronics and hooking them up," Kelly said.

GM now expects the project to wrap in early 2024, Kelly said.

There is a basis for the public speculation that GM may abandon Detroit: The Free Press reported in 2021 that a published report in 2019 cited unnamed sources saying GM CEO Mary Barra was looking to sell the RenCen, which GM acquired in 1996, to Detroit real estate mogul Dan Gilbert.

But in 2021, as the Detroit Free Press reported, Detroit's top occupant reaffirmed its commitment to its world headquarters in the buildings.

“After 25 years of our involvement in the transformation of Detroit’s riverfront, our commitment to the city is steadfast,” GM President Mark Reuss said in 2021. “We look to the future with our global headquarters continuing as the flagship of Detroit’s riverfront.”

But since the COVID-19 pandemic, when many of the salaried workers that typically occupied the buildings started working from home, the Renaissance Center has been somewhat desolate, as the Free Press reported last year. Earlier this year, GM said it will require its salaried workforce to return to the office at least three days a week. It was a mandate many local businesses welcomed because they rely on GM employee foot traffic for their businesses revenue.

In October 2022, the Free Press reported that about 5,000 GM employees were assigned to work at the Renaissance Center. Kuhnen did not have an updated number of how many GM salaried employees are currently assigned to work at the Renaissance Center. There are believed to be fewer employees assigned to work there today.

Kuhnen said, "the occupancy of the building varies day to day due to hybrid work schedules."

More: Ordinary Detroit building has decades of rich history, secrets inside

More: GM to start selling Cadillac EVs in Australia and New Zealand

Contact Jamie L. LaReau: Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Read more on General Motors and sign up for our autos newsletterBecome a subscriber.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: GM logos atop Detroit’s RenCen have gone dark: Here’s why