There are many people working tirelessly to revitalize Detroit. There are many people committed to its transformation and there are many people who are passionate about helping steer the city in the right direction.
There are also a few people with all those attributes who have touched pretty much every aspect of our city’s turnaround. One of them is Laura Trudeau, the managing director of the Kresge Foundation’s Detroit Program. Now after a 40-year career that helped implement many of the positive changes we see every day as Detroit continues its transformation, she is retiring.
Trudeau joined the Kresge Foundation in 2011. Since then she has overseen the investment of more than $425 million in grants and loans to local nonprofits and to national organizations capable of lending expertise and resources to help move the city forward. She has been a key strategist to such turnaround initiatives as Detroit Future City, the Grand Bargain and M-1 RAIL.
“It is impossible to fully understand Detroit’s renewed trajectory of hope and health without understanding the central role Laura has played in virtually every aspect of city life,” says Rip Rapson, Kresge president and CEO. “She has been so central to all that Kresge has done and continues to aspire to do that her retirement is hard to comprehend.”
Trudeau’s touched many things and helped numerous nonprofits get the boost and nurturing they needed to make a difference.
Those greenspaces you see around our city … Laura has been there.
The renewed Belle Isle … Laura has been there.
The redevelopment of the Detroit Riverfront … Laura has been there.
The ever-evolving vitality of Eastern Market … Laura has been there.
The implementation of the Grand Bargain that protected the pensions of city workers and saved the DIA’s artwork … Laura has been there.
The creation of stronger neighborhoods … Laura has been there.
She has also been deeply involved in promoting the economic and residential stability and vitality of the Woodward Corridor and the need for local and regional transit. She helped give birth to a comprehensive early childhood development system and enhanced the city’s arts and cultural ecology.
“At Kresge, she has nurtured fragile ecosystems into thriving hubs of creativity and jobs,” says Rapson. “Her passion to elevate Detroit to its full potential as a 21st century city has provided a shot in the arm to countless individuals and organizations.”
Here are some quick examples of where Trudeau’s voice and hands-on approach led to programs with Kresge investment that are transforming Detroit.
- Detroit Future City Strategic Framework – Spearheaded Kresge’s oversight to develop and implement the Detroit Future City Strategic Framework. The decision-making and investment guide promotes equitable and long-term economic opportunity for city residents, and includes strategies for economic growth, the re-imagination of underutilized land, residential stability, and effective transportation.
- Grand Bargain – Working closely with the full Kresge team and other foundation partners, was instrumental in developing the terms and governing conditions for the philanthropic fund that played a significant role in the successful resolution of Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy in 2014.
- M-1 RAIL- Since its inception in 2007, recruited and nurtured public, private, civic and philanthropic support for the development of a modern streetcar in the city. It is the first major transit project in the U.S. led and funded by private businesses and philanthropic organizations. The line has already promoted millions of dollars of economic development along the 3.3-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit and served as a catalyst for a regional transit system in Southeast Michigan.
- Detroit Home Mortgage – Partnering with Kresge’s Social Investment Practice, five local banks and other funders, worked for almost nine months to help create the initiative that will help home-buyers in the city obtain a mortgage for the purchase and renovation of a home. She also helped structure Kresge’s largest guarantee commitment ever at $6 million, which buttresses the program and its clients.
- Woodward Corridor Investment Fund – Working with the foundation’s Social Investment Practice, supported the creation of a $30 million fund to provide one-stop financing for residential and commercial projects along the Woodward Avenue Corridor.
With Trudeau’s impending retirement the passion for Detroit’s turnaround has not dimmed. Until she leaves Kresge in late December 2016, she will concentrate on the advancement of regional transit and work to make that mass transportation program that connects our region a reality. She will serve as a senior advisor to Rapson and as an executive-on-loan, work with the coalition supporting the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan and the M-1 RAIL organization.
This is a big year for transportation and it future in metro Detroit. This spring the RTA is expected to roll out a master plan for full-service regional transportation that will provide mass transit options to all residents in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. Next spring the M-1 RAIL streetcar is scheduled to carry its first passengers along Woodward Avenue between the North End neighborhood (West Grand Boulevard) and Congress Street.
Trudeau joined Kresge after a 28-year career at the former National Bank of Detroit (now JPMorgan Chase) where she served as vice president and regional head of philanthropy and community relations. In that role she oversaw the bank’s grantmaking activity in Detroit and across the region.
A graduate of Central Michigan University, she serves on the boards of Invest Detroit, Downtown Detroit Partnership and Detroit Future City. In 2015 she was awarded Black Family Development Inc.’s Dr. Gerald K. Smith Humanitarian Award for leadership and stellar community service.
Wendy Lewis Jackson and Benjamin Kennedy, currently deputy directors of Kresge’s Detroit Program, will serve as interim co-managing directors of the team and the program’s nearly $31 million annual grant budget. Jackson and Kennedy, who joined Kresge’s Detroit Program in 2008 and 2009 respectively, have played key roles in the development of all aspects of the program.