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From Whew! To Wow! Detroit has made great strides

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As we enter the new year, Detroiters have much to celebrate for the first time in a long while.  We’ve been into and out of bankruptcy and have much of America rooting for us from the sidelines and watching how we handle our new economy and new opportunities.

It is a good time for Detroiters to pause and reflect … to go from Whew! to Wow! … to take a deep collective breath and take stock of all that’s happened and what our new Detroit can potentially be.

That reminded me of an article I wrote six years ago … a version of The 12 Days of Christmas for Detroit. Here’s what I wished for …

  1. A U-turn in our economy
  2. Crimeless days
  3. Healthy auto companies
  4. Lions wins
  5. Stanley Cups
  6. National chain stores (in Detroit)
  7. Years of Robert Bobb
  8. Years of Dave Bing
  9. Sane city councilpersons
  10. New green start-ups
  11. Business tax cuts
  12. Whitney dinners.

Let’s look at how those wishes turned out.

Certainly we’ve had a huge U-turn in our economy, including at least 10 new green startups.

We have three very healthy, although not problem free, auto companies.

The Lions made proud.

City Council does seem to be sane and working together for the betterment of the city.

Governor Snyder pushed through some meaningful business tax cuts.

The-Whitney1The Whitney is serving more (and better) dinners than ever, enough to give us in December the best month since we’ve had the privilege of owning the mansion.

Not all our wishes have come to fruition, though.

The Wings are still working on adding Stanley Cups to their historically enviable record.

Robert Bobb has disappeared from the Detroit scene (and apparently had more baggage than we knew by the time he departed).

Mayor Bing has relinquished the reins to a very competent successor in Mike Duggan.

Crime is still an issue (as it is in every major city) but new police Chief James Craig seems like the real deal and is aggressively going after it.

M-1 1 Whole Foods has come to town, Meijer has opened a big new store at Eight Mile and John Varvatos is about to open his first store outside the streets of New York on the main drag of Detroit … but we still need more national chain stores to recognize the new Detroit and come here.

Meanwhile, wow! So many good things we didn’t even think about wishing for have happened in Detroit.

DOWNTOWN1-e1406063122563M1 is really coming.

A new $650 million Red Wings arena, residential and commercial district plus a new Ilitch headquarters building have been announced.

Sixty four buildings, including most of a reviving Capitol Park and much of downtown, are now part of the Gilbert/Bedrock family and are being revitalized and brought back into service.  A few blocks away the refurbished Broderick Tower is open and fully occupied and the David Whitney building with its 136 room Aloft Hotel is set to open in January.

Brooklyn’s famous Galapagos Art Space and Performance Center is making a real leap of faith and moving lock, stock and barrel from its proven Brooklyn space to 200,000-square-feet of space in Corktown and Highland Park.  A few days after that move made news plans to bring “the corner” – Michigan and Trumbull – back to life were announced.

Nearly 40 stores from the Somerset Collection – The Somerset Collection! – conducted holiday business in the heart of downtown.

Belle Isle State Park is blossoming with a $6 million annual infusion from Lansing, and Wayne State University’s new $93 million bio medical research building and $68 million medical office buildings are well underway in Midtown.

Midtown is also home to the new Garden Theater and Woodward-Willis buildings and more than a handful of other refurbished apartment buildings along the Woodward corridor that are chugging along in various stages of construction or reconstruction.

Hi_Res_Atwater_View_West compressedAfter its $300+ million upgrade, Cobo Hall has actually become a world class convention facility and is getting national notice.

And, Shinola, bless their corporate heart, has set up shop all over town, is advertising nationally and pumping up Detroiters’ chests with its prominent “Made in Detroit” logo.

Oh yes, long abandoned and derelict houses and neighborhoods are finally being focused on and reclamation has begun.  There is recognition, acknowledgement and agreement that the city cannot succeed without its neighborhoods being revitalized and made healthy, too. They cannot be left behind.

New restaurants are opening all over town – on Woodward, on Michigan Avenue, on Cass and all around downtown.  The Whitney’s new next door neighbor, HopCat, with 130 beer taps, had 1,500 people standing in line for its recent Saturday morning opening.  Was it the beer or the promise of a year’s worth of HopCat’s famous “crack fries” free to the first 200 guests?  Either way, there was a whole lot of interest.

It’s early in the game, much too early to tell how successful the city will ultimately be, but so far, so good.  Everybody’s behaving.  Everybody seems to be working together and pulling in the same direction.

And since it’s the time of year for New Year’s resolutions, we might all consider resolving to stop the nay-saying about the city once and for all and start instead to celebrate and take advantage of the positives.  There are many to celebrate and they’re growing almost by the day.

We can only hope that 2015 will continue this happy turn of events for the newly chic but always resilient Detroit. The future is now.

– Bud Liebler is owner of The Whitney and president of The Liebler Group

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