If you’ve lived in Detroit for five years or more you’ve seen a dramatic transformation in our city. We still have a humongous amount of work to do but the progress is nothing short of phenomenal.
The latest was the Ilitch announcement of the more-than-20,000-seat arena and entertainment district that will create as many as 2,000 new residential units, dozens of shops, walkable European-style streets and perhaps the nation’s most innovative multipurpose arena … all by 2017.
On top of that the M-1 RAIL will begin construction on July 28. It will link the Downtown, Midtown, New Center and North End.
Close by DTE Energy is revitalizing the western edge of Downtown Detroit and stimulating retail and cultural development there. That neighborhood will grow to join the Ilitch development.
All this news prompted a look at where Detroit’s been and where we are going.
Here’s what Downtown looked like in 1996. Total employment was 65,000, commercial occupancy rates were falling and the riverfront was, frankly, just plain ugly filled with concrete barriers, parking lots and sagging sidewalks.
General Motors bought the Renaissance Center that year, moved its headquarters from New Center to the RenCen and started to transform the area. Today our riverfront has flowers, a carousel, plazas, a pavilion, apartments, runners, walkers, a children’s play area, a state park and so much more.
Other major companies followed GM to Detroit’s core. Compuware came Downtown in 2003 and built a one-million-square-foot mid-rise office building that anchored Campus Martius Park. That led to a new and revitalized Campus Martius Park, which opened in 2004. Today more than two million people share in the more than 200 free events each year.
Our other parks are rapidly becoming must-go-to destinations. By 2016 there will be more events in Capitol Park, Grand Circus Park, Paradise Valley and Cadillac Square.
In 2010 Quicken Loans moved Downtown and into the Compuware Building. Its real estate arm, Rock Ventures, then began buying buildings and today has acquired more than 9million square feet of Downtown real estate. Much of that has been turned in to thriving business opportunities for big and small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan brought more of its employees Downtown. That move increased the Renaissance Center’s occupancy rate to 92 percent and reduced the amount of vacant Class A office space in the central business district by 6 percent.
Employment downtown continues to grow. In 2010, there were 78,000 workers in the central business district and 136,000 in the greater Downtown, according to the Southeast Michigan Coalition of Governments (SEMCOG). With recent employment relocations and growth, Downtown workers are estimated at 85,000. By 2016 it is expected to grow to 100,000.
More of them will live Downtown. In 2003 there had been no new residential units constructed there in the previous 10 years. Today there are 556 with demand for 1,400-plus units per year. By 2016 the Downtown Detroit Partnership expects 965 more units to come online. In addition, by 2022 it says the Downtown population is projected to double to 6,000 new residents.
They’ll also have more places to shop. Four years ago we had 80 percent retail vacancy and some of those stores had been vacant for 30-40 years. Today we have more than 275 retail and restaurant businesses. By 2016 there DDP projects the opening of an additional 400,000 square feet in districts along Woodward.
Detroit has indeed come a long way and there is so much yet to come.