Friday, January 19, 2007

Remembering Downtown Flint

I was only three years old when "Genesee Towers" was completed, so that building has been a part of Flint as long as I can remember. I can also remember when there were a lot more buildings up and down Saginaw Street and the streets alongside it, and when the buildings up and down it were busy with shoppers and other activities. I also remember when the I.M.A. (Stands for Industrial Mutual Association, too many of us Flintoids only knew the initials) had a 6,000 seat auditorium amongst its large number of activities. There was also an intercity bus station on North Saginaw Street and plenty of busses.

No matter where you were, you knew where the tallest building was. Even if it was only ten stories of offices and stuff placed over a seven-story parking ramp, it was still THE! TALLEST! BUILDING! IN! FLINT!

Through the late seventies and early eighties, as Flint tried everything to revive itself or make itself healthy in its smaller format, Genesee Towers still stood tall. I remember going to it frequently in the eighties and early nineties with my student loans through Genesee Bank (back when Sallie Mae merely guaranteed the loans); it seemed that Downtown Flint was able to stablize itself and even give a bit more services through busses and such.

My next visit to the North Flint was in 1994. U of M-Flint had expanded a bit, but for me the surprise came when I went up North Saginaw Street -- instead of the run-down buildings I had long seen and looked at and could tell what they had been by their design, I saw a lot of grass. Genesee Towers was still standing, although Genesee Bank had become a branch of The National Bank of Detroit by then.

Evidently by then NBD had decided that they didn't need so all that space for a shrinking part of their market, so they moved out of Genesee Towers in 1999. I had moved out of Michigan by that time, so I can't say I was up on what had happened.

So now the building stands. The City of Flint wants to take over the land and tear the building down. The owner wants to hold onto the building, but won't do anything to it until they're allowed to. Meanwhile the building stands empty, windows fading in different colors, the lower parking ramp easily accessed (and probably used by some serial killer knocking off the prostitutes in the city).

What would the city use the land for? Probably a parking lot. After all, with half the downtown empty and nothing daring to move in, why have a hazard stading at the corner? As it is, the sidewalks are closed off and parts of the facade still fall down (after the so-called fix). And while they're trying to create a "new downtown" that's a playplace for empty nesters and the young and childless, I doubt there's a critical mass for it to take off. Even with the college downtown.

I'd love to be proven wrong. Alas, I don't expect it to happen.

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