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Chrysler's Dime Building Move A Strong Symbol Of Detroit Commitment

A few days after Chrysler reported its best quarterly earnings since its 2009 bankruptcy, the automaker announced it would move around 70 employees to the historic Dime Building in downtown Detroit.

The Dime Building is one of Detroit's architectural treasures. When completed in 1912, the tower was named the Dime Savings Bank Building after its primary tenant. It was later renamed the Commonwealth Building, was briefly known as Griswold Place and became the Dime Building in 2002. Rock Ventures, the real estate firm headed by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, owns the building will be Chrysler's new landlord. In honor of the new tenant, Gilbert is renaming the building "Chrysler House."

Chrysler will move its Great Lakes Business Center and several corporate functions into the top two floors of the 23-story building, about 33,000 square feet of office space. CEO Sergio Marchionne will have an office there.

The move is smaller than once expected, but is strongly symbolic nonetheless. It shows that Chrysler has confidence in moving employees into downtown Detroit and could follow with more as hiring needs manifest.

"The point is, today's announcement represents one more way in which we are reinforcing what we've said with action, by adding to our physical presence in Detroit," Marchionne said.

Chrysler has been steadily adding jobs that are located in Detroit. It turns out Jeeps from its Jefferson North Assembly Plant, and has added a second shift. Marchionne said a third shift will be added by year's end.

The automaker also operates the Mack Avenue Engine Complex on St. Jean Street and plans to add a Maserati SUV at Jefferson North. Meanwhile, Chrysler is restarting the production of the Dodge Viper at the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant.

And while Ford and GM have long been shy about marketing their Detroit roots, Chrysler has been marketing itself as "Imported from Detroit" since February 2011. While not all of its vehicles are made in Detroit (or even Michigan), and its headquarters remains in the Detroit suburb of Auburn Hills, the automaker has been pushing its roots and market cred as tied to the city. In the last two Super Bowls, Chrysler ran highly popular ads, one starring Eminem and the other actor-director Clint Eastwood, that touted Detroit's comeback.

While Chrysler's commitment to the city and the region has been rising, there are still politicians and pundits who think the U.S. government was wrong to have assisted in Chrysler's bankruptcy in 2009 and lent the automaker money to survive. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who is chairing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign in California, echoed Romney's opposition to the federal bailout of GM and Chrysler on ABC's "This Week." Fiorina punctuated that opposition with the comment: "And Chrysler is owned by the Italians now!"

True, but "the Italians" are investing in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs in ways that private-equity firms favored by Romney and Fiorina would likely not have done.

And Chrysler has paid back its billions of dollars in loans from the federal government, years ahead of schedule. The company posted healthy earnings last week despite selling mostly improved hold-over vehicles from when it was owned by Cerberus Capital.

Chrysler's financial results have been better than most analysts predicted three years ago. The company has made steady progress in sales, earnings and quality. Chrysler sales in the first quarter of this year increased 33 percent to 523,000 vehicles, led by the automaker's home U.S. market.

"Another positive quarter -- built on sales gains that have surpassed the industry average -- is affirmation that the Chrysler team is maintaining its focus," said Marchionne.

This week, Chrysler begins production of the all-new Dodge Dart, the first vehicle to come to market that was designed from the ground up by Chrysler and Fiat designers and engineers working as a team. The Dart is being built in Belvidere, Illinois.

Marchionne addressed the pundits who have long thought Chrysler and Detroit were not worth saving: "Like Detroit, Chrysler knows what it is like to hear commentators pronounce our condition as beyond the point of salvation. To those who scoff at the idea of a revitalized Detroit, I would remind them of what aviator Amelia Earhart said: 'Never interrupt someone doing something that you said can't be done.'"

Grand Blvd. is a weekly column about cars from David Kiley, editor-in-chief of AOL Autos. For more of his writing and everything about cars, head over to AOL Autos.

Flickr photo by Femme Facetious.

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