Coleman A. Young Municipal Center: Government at its Greatest

By: Tanner Johnston

Standing watch in front of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit since 1958 is a 26-foot-tall bronze sculpture known as “The Spirit of Detroit,” easily one of the most iconic landmarks in the Motor City. But, just as iconic are the two, white marble-clad towers it guards and the people who operate them. In fact, the property team at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center has pulled off an amazing feat: combining public service, safety, financial responsibility and high-quality management into the daily operations of a busy government building. The secret to the property’s success is the team’s governance and management style, which is laser-focused on efficiency. Gregory McDuffee, executive director of the Detroit-Wayne Joint Building Authority, which owns the property, sees running the 100 percent-occupied municipal center as a higher calling: “Every dollar we spend is a taxpayer dollar. We collect rent from the city and the county. As a result, we view ourselves as stewards of that resource.”

As part of this stewardship, the property team wanted to demonstrate to the public that their money was being well spent, so they decided to pursue the BOMA 360 designation. “We recognized that achieving the BOMA 360 designation would be a reflection of how we maximize the value of our taxpayer-provided resources,” McDuffee explains. But, the property team of the 745,000-square-foot municipal center— complete with courtrooms, a law library, offices and a 500-seat auditorium—began its journey to BOMA 360 more than a decade earlier.

In 2005, the Detroit-Wayne Joint Building Authority engaged Hines to manage the building, drawing on the third-party management company’s industry expertise to create significant efficiencies and improvements across all areas of building operations. When Michael Kennedy, property manager with Hines, came on board, the annual operating expenses for the property were $15 million per year. Now, 13 years later, that figure has been cut nearly in half, with a 55 percent reduction in utility costs; operations are firing on all cylinders; and the property has the added recognition of a BOMA 360 designation.

“Quite frankly, we have a better-run asset with happier tenants and visitors due to these operational improvements,” says McDuffee. With its lean, but effective, operations and management, the center should make every taxpayer proud. “We saw the BOMA 360 program as an opportunity to benchmark and highlight our gains, and we couldn’t be prouder to have earned the designation as part of our commitment to excellence and the community,” he adds. In the midst of all this efficiency, the property team at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center also takes the time to focus on the tenant and visitor experience. The team has to balance tenant and visitor satisfaction with a high level of security. All of the nearly 4,000 daily visitors to the towers must go through a security screening just as thorough as that found at an airport, but the atmosphere is significantly more friendly. “We work hard to ensure that we provide a welcoming experience to visitors,” McDuffee explains.

In fact, McDuffee and the property team consider themselves ambassadors to everyone who walks through the door. “This is a very active, multidisciplinary government center, and anything we can do to bring the level of anxiety down helps security,” he says. “Something as simple as helping a visitor find their way is a valuable opportunity to help people feel welcome and at ease.”

As you might expect, the center excelled in the life safety, security and risk management section of the BOMA 360 application, one of six major evaluation areas for the designation. McDuffee and his team attribute this success to their three-pronged security plan: engage tenants on preparedness in a meaningful way, particularly through regular security trainings for designated floor wardens; clearly communicate with tenants, providing both emergency announcements and ongoing communications; and maintain a strong partnership with local and federal security officials. Preparation has been key to keeping the building physically safe, but cybersecurity is a growing concern for government buildings. For that, the experience of Hines was critical. “Typically, the public sector is wholly reliant on their own IT and security infrastructure,” McDuffee says. “But, rather than drawing valuable resources into creating our own systems and platforms, we’ve been able to aggressively leverage Hines’ existing protocols and best practices.” This allowed the property to take advantage of cuttingedge security best practices while keeping costs low.

It’s easy to see that the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center is the model citizen of its community. And, with the BOMA 360 designation, it proves its commitment to excellence.