There is no doubt Dan Gilbert believes investing in downtown Detroit is a solid business decision. Beginning last October when he moved 2,000 employees downtown and continuing with the speculated purchase of the Dime Building, his commitment is clear.
What has not always been clear is why he is making these investments. His impromptu appearance in front of the media briefing shed light on his motivations and the plans for investments he has made.
Gilbert told the group he comes from a family of business owners. His grandfather and father both owned businesses in the city. That history and a strong desire to re-create a bustling central business district in Detroit helps fuel his commitment.
Gilbert also showed pictures of the two founders of Groupon to highlight his second reason. After meeting them on vacation, he discovered that both men grew up in the Detroit area just a few blocks from his parents’ home and moved to Chicago when starting their business because they wanted to work in a vibrant downtown.
“We can’t miss the next one,” Gilbert stated.
If the rumored sale of the Dime Building does come to fruition, his company will be the second largest landlord downtown with approximately 1.6 million square feet of office space to work with. Being a major investor in Detroit office real estate is one way to ensure a first class experience for businesses looking to relocate.
“We’re doing it (purchasing property) because for us to have a major impact, we have to control the property,” he noted
A part of that impact will be on the retail sector in the city. Each building that has been purchased will have a retail element added and several design concepts were shared. Successful retail establishments are a key piece of a vibrant urban core, and Gilbert firmly believes people are making decisions on where to live or work based in part on the vibrancy of core cities.
“We need to bring more hip, modern designs to the street scape and attract more retail,” he said.
He also expressed his strong opinions on the role light rail will have in e economic development of downtown. Curbside light rail is his choice, because it is easy for people to use. According to Gilbert put it up 25 feet like the People Mover or in the median and studies show people will take advantage of other transportation options.
Residential options are also a key component to a vibrant core city and while his company is not directly investing in the downtown residential real estate market, he acknowledged that residential is a very important component to revitalizing downtown.
Gilbert also thinks projects like the David Broderick Tower rehabilitation can serve as an example of what is possible in the city.
“If this Broderick Tower takes off, it’s really going to encourage other developers,” he speculated.
Ultimately for Gilbert, the idea of investing in Detroit as a sound business decision goes much deeper than what a spreadsheet can measure. As he says, spreadsheets do not measure what does not happen. What does not happen currently is a big concern for Gilbert and he is investing his money to make are the Detroit his father and grandfather told him about is realized once again.