Back in the bad old days, office workers in downtown Detroit staged a macabre daily sporting event. At quitting time there would be a mad dash to the parking lot — eyes out for muggers, or worse — then, quick, fire up the car and race home to the suburbs. As night fell, downtown turned into a ghost town.
Those days are a dim memory — and not just on sunny days like Thursday, when Game 4 of the American League Championship Series drew more than 40,000 Tiger fans downtown to Comerica Park, their eyes dancing with visions of sweeping the despised Yankees from the playoffs. Today, as often as not, people who work downtown don’t race home to the suburbs for a simple reason that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: they also live downtown, in buildings that once stood empty.
The reverse exodus has become so pronounced that downtown Detroit can now be fairly accused of imitating such desirable New York addresses as Chelsea or TriBeCa. Yes, it’s gotten so bad — or good — that it’s now nearly impossible to find a vacant apartment to rent in downtown Detroit.
Mandy Davenport is a recent volunteer in this army of foot soldiers, mostly young people, who have moved into downtown. Many work in high-tech jobs, or they pursue creative careers while supporting themselves with day jobs, or, like Davenport, they’re part of the real estate boom.
“The only thing I used to know about downtown Detroit was Tigers games,” says Davenport, 30, who moved from tiny Williamston, near Lansing, about six weeks ago to take a job as office manager in the Broderick Tower, an elegant 34-story tower on Woodward Avenue that is being converted into luxury apartments. “My friends in California told me I was stupid to move here, I’m going to get killed. Frankly, I thought it was going to be scarier. There’s a lot to do — bars, restaurants, concerts, games, the Eastern Market. It’s a lot of young people, people moving in from the suburbs. A lot of people want to walk to work.”
As she speaks, she’s standing in the Broderick’s duplex penthouse apartment that looks down onto the diamond where the Tigers and Yankees are doing battle. From the other side of the apartment you can see the muscular clump of downtown skyscrapers, the silver ribbon of the Detroit River behind it and, off in the distance, Windsor and the vastness of Ontario.
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