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Partnership is the key to progress: Optimism pays off in Detroit

Campus Martius sand

“It’s not Detroit versus Michigan. It’s Detroit, Michigan.” That’s what Governor Snyder said when Dan Gilbert asked him to comment about the common saying “as Detroit goes so goes Michigan.” Gilbert was interviewing the governor as part of the Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP) annual meeting.

governor-rick-snyder-interviewed-by-dan-gilbertIt was lively interview … Gilbert played the role of a talk show host … watch out Stephen Colbert … for the 8-minute interview. Gilbert opened with the easy question, “’How’s that EFM thing going?” To which Snyder replied, “starting with the easy questions, huh?” It’s going well he said, without much other detail.

Throughout the interview the governor stressed the need for a partnership between Detroit and all of Michigan as well as between business and government if we expect to revitalize our downtown.

That business and government partnership, as well as the partnership with the philanthropic community, is driving change. All three are part of DDP and all three are working together to create Detroit 2016, the theme of the annual meeting. If all the things either already underway or will be soon, downtown Detroit will certainly be different in three years.

“We are at this critical moment in the growth of downtown, where our public sector and corporate partners have come together to create a relentless momentum,” said David Blaszkiewicz DDP’s president and CEO. “If we persist in our efforts to collaborate, develop innovative approaches and apply successful models, there will be a palpable and dramatic difference for those who work, live and play in our great downtown.”

DDP’s vision is to create a downtown Detroit in 2016 that is a vibrant, dense and engaging urban neighborhood. Here’s what’s being done to bring more residents and businesses downtown and make it easier to get around.

  • Construction of the M-1 Rail begins this summer and should be completed by 2015.
  • The Live Downtown and Live Midtown program have brought 925 new residents to greater downtown Detroit.
  • Detroit currently has a 97% occupancy rate and more residential is coming on line.
  • The Broderick Tower, vacant for more than two decades, opened in November 2012. Its 127 housing units were filled within the first week.
  • Renovation has begun on the Whitney Building. When completed there will be a boutique hotel with 125 rooms and 106 residential units on the top floor.
  • Renovation of Capitol Park will begin this summer. When completed it will have 202 new housing units and space for commercial development.
  • The East Riverfront project, which connects downtown with the riverfront, will offer 291 new housing units and space for retail development.
  • Combined the Broderick Tower, Whitney Building, Capitol Park and East Riverfront projects will add 1000 new places for residents in the next three years.
A group of young professionals working together for Detroit get a tour of Quicken Loans

A group of young professionals working together for Detroit get a tour of Quicken Loans

More people are coming downtown to work, as well. DDP’s vision is to have 100,000 people working downtown by 2016. Currently, there are 85,000. Many of them work for the 1,100 existing companies that been committed to Detroit for years.

More companies will join them and others such as Quicken Loans, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, DTE Energy and Strategic Staffing Solutions, which have moved nearly 19,000 folks downtown in the last 18 months.

There are numerous plans to attract more individuals. An employee technology training and innovation center will be located in the Broderick Tower, which is right across from Grand Circus Park. It’ll open late summer this year.

Speaking of Grand Circus Park, we all know it needs a lot of work … and that’s underway. The fountains are being repaired and activated. Seating, tables, a dog park, games and a small performance area are being added.

That’s not the only good news for placemaking in downtown. The Capitol Park district will have galleries, restaurants and cafes. Paradise Valley will continue its legacy for great Detroit jazz, blues, arts and culture. There will be lunchtime and weekend music series.

Then, of course, there’s Campus Martius in the heart of downtown. There’ll be more events daily, in the evening and on weekends such as food and artist markets and new games … even basketball. They’re even adding a beach complete with gurgling fountain, wooden deck, beach furniture, umbrellas, sand sculpture and music to simulate an Up North lake experience.

I’d say that pretty much sums it up but before I wrap this up let me share a couple more things.

The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation is encouraging Detroit businesses to buy from one another as part of its D2D program. So far 15 large buyers in the city are participating and have already spent $550 million a year with Detroit suppliers. The program could add 7,700 jobs and more than $2.5 billion in revenue over the next 10 years.

Key to everything I’ve mentioned above is safety and security. It is essential to bringing businesses and people downtown. “If we are not successful in this category, nothing else we do will matter,” Blaszkiewicz said.

Downtown saw a 15% reduction in criminal activity in 2012 over 2011, making last year the safest of the last five years downtown. In addition, 1,037 street lights were converted to LED and circuits were repaired. Overall, lighting has improved nearly 85%. Still, a lot of work needs to be done to keep the lights on in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown.

Much is being done downtown. Why? Optimism and opportunity.

Quoting Winston Churchill DDP Board Chair Cindy Pasky said, “A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”

She continued on. “Optimists are rarely in their comfort zone. They embrace change and move forward. Detroit is full of optimists and optimism and it’s paying off.”

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