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Detroit’s boom: It’s like the Red Sea has parted

Michigan America's Byways

I was listening to the radio and heard Quicken Loans Founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert tell a group of college students with the Live Work Detroit program Detroit’s boom is right around the corner and over the next few years Detroit’s rebound will be the biggest story in the nation. “It’s like the Red Sea has parted for your generation,” he said.

That got me thinking and I started counting the changes in Detroit 2011. When I ran out of fingers I decided to write a blog that rounds up what transformational things were accomplished last year.

Live Downtown and Live Midtown were launched with flair. Live Downtown is a collaborative effort by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Compuware, DTE Energy, Quicken Loans and Strategic Staffing Solutions that offers cash incentives to employees, who choose to move to Downtown Detroit. Right now there are 250 employees in the pipeline and 100 closed in six months. More companies are showing interest so look for it to grow in 2012. There will also be more living space to choose from next year and in the future as more buildings are being renovated.

Live Midtown is a similar program that offers incentives to employees of Midtown’s three largest employers the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System and Wayne State to move to the area and retain those who are already living there.

The David Broderick Tower will be ready for retail and residential occupancy later this year and the vacant David Whitney Building is also being renovated. In addition, a three-square block area of former low-mid rise office buildings in Capitol Park will become a robust Downtown residential neighborhood with 750 residential units and 25 retail store fronts.

Living Downtown is great but you have to have places to shop. The Downtown Detroit Partnership is working with Downtown property owners and potential retail businesses and hopes to bring 15-20 new retailers into shops along Woodward by 2014. Longer term DDP envisions a unique retail district developing on Woodward and in Capitol Park. City Lofts is returning next summer.

One new innovation might be able to help with that and more. The D:hive welcomes new recruits and assists existing innovators in order to grow and keep more young talent in Downtown Detroit. Beginning in March it encompassed the work of Inside Detroit and provides resources related to real estate, jobs, important city data, retail, small business and more. You can find where the old Welcome Center was at 1253 Woodward Avenue.

And, there’s more. Ford Auditorium has been demolished, which opened up Hart Plaza. The former Uniroyal Tire site is being cleaned up to make way for a 43-acre private development that will include construction of a portion of Detroit’s RiverWalk. Nearly $10 million of public and private investment has been targeted toward neighborhood stabilization.

Campus Martius Park has become a Downtown jewel. It was #4 on a list of the 12 best public squares in the U.S. and Canada, as ranked by Project for Public Spaces, and it was the first-ever winner of the Urban Land Institute’s Urban Open Space Award and one of the 10 Great Public Spaces in the United States as ranked by the American Planning Association. Earlier this year it was named “Best Outdoor Hangout Place in the D” by 17,000 voters on Metromix Best of Detroit competition.

More than 10,000 packed the park for the annual tree lighting event. This year a new Christmas Market with more than 50 vendors and Hofbräu Charity Beer Garden was added. The first-ever Menorah Lighting brought down about 1,000 people and about 5,000 attended the Drop of the D to celebrate New Year’s 2012. In addition, the Fountain Bistro opened last summer and has already been named one of Metro Detroit’s 10 Best New Restaurants by the Detroit Free Press.

There are other great places to eat in Detroit. More than 36,000 people visited Downtown for Restaurant Week last fall, a 18.4 percent increase over last year. Twenty-one restaurants served three-course meals for a set price of $28.00. This was our fifth Restaurant Week. Over the five campaigns, some 158,000 people have participated and the program has generated a minimum of $2.78 million in sales for city businesses of all kinds.

The Grand Prix is coming back to Belle Isle June 1-3. The Grand Prix and Penske Corporation contributed more than $6 million in improvements on Belle Isle in 2007 and 2008 and more improvement projects are in the works for 2012 and beyond. According to joint studies conducted by the event and the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau (DMCVB), the Grand Prix generated nearly $53 million in economic impact for metropolitan Detroit in 2007 and more than $55.2 million in 2008.

All this is great but the city also has to be safe and clean.

Safety is a concern in Detroit and any big city. Project Lighthouse – a neighborhood watch program designed to keep residents, workers and visitors safe in the city will be unveiled later this month in partnership with the Detroit Police Department and more than 30 businesses in the Central Business District.  This program will enhance the safety and security of our vibrant downtown. With a simple phone call to 313-471-6490, help will be provided to anyone who is lost, separated from friends, having vehicle trouble or experiencing other safety concerns. Any business displaying a Project Lighthouse logo is considered a safe haven.  Project Lighthouse is available to augment, not replace, 9-1-1.

In addition, more police are moving back to the city and more are in the neighborhoods thanks to constructive changes and actions taken by the Detroit Police Department. Among those steps is a crackdown on violent crime on the East Side. No one should live in fear anywhere in this city.

Keeping the lights on is vital to safety. Under the leadership of the City of Detroit Public Lighting Department, 1,077 lights were retrofitted to use high-efficiency LED lights in key areas of Downtown. These new lights will save 40% in electricity costs and create a more attractive environment while reducing the overall electrical load. The program will replace nearly half of the lights Downtown. The Downtown Development Authority, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and DDP are supporting the City in this important initiative.

And, did you ever wonder who cleans up Downtown? It’s Clean Downtown, which provides litter and graffiti control, the continuous cleaning and sweeping of 39 miles of sidewalk, landscape maintenance of parks and green space covering the equivalent of 15 football fields, and support of events. It picks up 2.5 tons of trash daily – 565 tons of trash in 2010 and 532 tons in 2011.

Not bad for year’s work.

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15 comments on “Detroit’s boom: It’s like the Red Sea has parted

  1. Great synopsis, but I would argue that many of these changes are superficial. Unless more substantial measures are taken to alleviate some of these challenges, the suburban contingent that is incentivized to test the waters will eventually return to the burbs to educate their children in safety. For instance, a phone number might make people feel safe, but why are people committing crimes in the first place? Is it the lack of opportunity? Economic segregation? Inadequate schools that aren't providing the population with employable skills? What is being done to solves these pressing social ills?

    I live in Detroit, but not downtown Detroit. While it's great that so much money and effort is going into making downtown more pleasant as per suburban values, creating a truly safe and viable community at the core involves invigorating and supporting the needs of entire community, including those with less advantage (including families, children, and seniors), not just appealing to gentrification efforts of businesses.

  2. I agree with Rebecca. It is great to have the downtown area that is expanding and improving. We are grateful for what has happened.

    But Detroit cannot take a victory lap or celebrate in the street until the whole city has been renewed and transformed. I have visited Detroit and love it. I hope to be there this summer.

    What efforts are made for the rest of Detroit's effort for a new future?

  3. Those of us who currently reside in the bombed out, third world neighborhoods surrounding the resurgent downtown Detroit would disagree with the overly optimistic tone of this writer. At this rate Downtown Detroit will become an enclave of prosperity surrounded by a sea of third world hovels mired in crime and persistent grinding poverty. Although it is helpful to note that certain tony neighborhoods "worth stabilizing" are benefiting although most of those neighborhoods were never the ones that present the problems that afflict neighborhoods as mine. If you live in those upper crust neighborhoods bully for you, although I would suggest erecting defenses lest you are over run by the disgruntled "thugs" and "hooligans" ravaging the more war torn areas of your sparkling imaginary jewel.

  4. Thank you for your comments. I am optimistic about Detroit's future but am well aware there much more to do. We can transform the city by working together. Luther Keith over at ARISE Detroit! is doing some great things in neighborhoods on the East Side and in other parts of the city. Give him a call.

  5. Great post, it's good to see positive advancements in the city. One thing I think is important is that improvements to downtown and midtown will bring more people down to the city, which will bring in more tax money to help fix issues in the city. I do agree that the neighborhoods are hurting the most and can't be ignored, but with the limited resources we have currently, investments must be made in areas that will benefit the city most.

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