Sights and Scenes: Downtown Flint

A quick look at the downtown of a city that was the same size as Jacksonville, Florida in 1960: Flint, Michigan

About Flint

Incorporated in 1855, Flint is the largest city in Genesee County, Michigan and the twelfth largest city in Michigan. Flint became an automobile manufacturing powerhouse after General Motors (GM) was founded in the city in 1908. For much of the 20th century, Flint was known as the “Vehicle City.” In 1960, Flint peaked in population (196,940 residents) and was nearly equal in size to Jacksonville, Florida (201,030 in 1960 and 949,611 in 2020).

Since the 1960s, the city has struggled economically as the local automotive industry has declined. Since 1978, local GM employment has dropped from 80,000 to under 8,000. With a 2020 population of 81,252 residents, Flint is a city working to turn things around economically.

Here are photographs from a brief drive through Downtown Flint.

Looking north on Saginaw Street. Flint was founded on the historic Saginaw Trail by fur trader Jacob Smith 1819. The city was incorporated in 1855.

The Paterson Building at the intersection of East 3rd Street and Saginaw Street. It was constructed for the W. A. Paterson Company who first built carriages in 1869. The company eventually became an automobile manufacturer and remained in business until 1923.

The First National Bank of Flint building was constructed in 1924 and expanded five years later.

The 500 block of Saginaw Street.

The Huntington National Bank building was erected in 1928.

The former Citizens Bank and 16-story UM-Flint Riverfront Residence Hall & Banquet Center (right). Citizens was a Flint-based bank that was originally established in 1871. The bank ceased operations in 2013 following a merger with FirstMerit Corporation. FirstMerit merged with Huntington Bankshares in 2016. The Riverfront Residence Hall & Banquet Center was originally built in 1981 as a Hyatt Regency Hotel.

The Flint Odyssey House is located in a building that was completed in 1927 as an addition for the larger Durant Hotel. Today, the Odyssey House operates as a drug rehabilitation house for addicts.

The Industrial Savings Bank Building was erected in 1922 by the Realty Construction Company of Flint. The building served as a bank until closing permanently during the Great Depression. In 1997, the building was acquired by the University of Michigan-Flint. Refurbished in 2000, the building is now known as the Northbank Center.

The Durant is an eight story apartment building that originally opened as the Hotel Durant in 1919. The hotel was named after William C. Durant, the chairman of GM who raised $500,000 to construct the hotel. Flint’s leading hotel for decades, the hotel closed in 1973 following a decline in local GM operations and the 1973 oil crisis. After decades of being vacant, the building reopened in 2010 as an apartment complex.

In 1985, the Rouse Company opened a $15.75 million festival marketplace in Flint, Michigan. Adjacent to the Flint River, Rouse predicted that the 100,000-square-foot marketplace and its 60 tenants would attract at least two million visitors a year in a city desperately in need of a retail attraction to assist with the redevelopment of its declining downtown. Despite a June 27, 1985 grand opening that drew a large crowd, Water Street Pavilion quickly failed as a retail center and officially closed its doors for good in September 1990.

Seeking to re-purpose the property as a community gathering space, the Downtown Development Authority sold the failed marketplace to the University of Michigan-Flint (UM-Flint) for $60,000 in June 1993. UM-Flint then spent $3 million to renovate the structure into an university administration building and community gathering space known as the University Pavilion.

Looking south of Saginaw Street from Kearsley Street.

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation Building was the tallest building in Flint when it was completed for Union Industrial Bank in 1930. The building is considered to be one of Flint’s most iconic structures.

Designed to look like a Roman garden, the Capitol Theater Building at 140 Harrison Street was completed in 1928.

The Capitol Theater was operated by W.S. Butterfield Theatres until it closed in 1976. In 2017, the theater reopened after a restoration project by the Uptown Reinvestment Corporation.

The Dryden Building was built in 1902 as the headquarters for the Durant-Dort Carriage Company. The Durant-Dort Carriage Company was the predecessor of General Motors.

The Rowe Building was completed in 2010 to serve as Rowe engineering’s headquarters, MLive Media Group’s Flint Journal location and Landaal Packaging corporate offices and design studio.

The Flint Farmers’ Market is a year-round indoor fresh food market and a seasonal farmers’ market shed. The current building was completed in 2014 in a former printing press building.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at