Why I Love My City: Downtown Detroit's Big Booster


Nate Berg
The Atlantic Cities


Dan Gilbert has deep roots in Detroit. And deep pockets. The founder and chairman of Quicken Loans is a third generation Detroit native and has become a major force in the city, bringing thousands of his employees into new headquarters downtown and helping to incubate new start-up businesses in the city. In addition to Quicken Loans, Gilbert is also the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, and, after a recent spree of purchases, he now owns more than 1.8 million square feet of property in downtown Detroit. This makes him the third largest land owner in Detroit, behind only General Motors and the city itself, according to Crain’s Business.

Gilbert chatted with us about why he’s so involved in downtown Detroit, what he sees for its future, and how his approach to rebuilding the city can benefit his business and others.

You’ve been buying up a lot of property in downtown. Why the focus downtown?

People in their 20s and 30s, the best and brightest coming out of our universities, the vast majority of them want to be in a cool urban core in a hip city. Period. So, if we’re going to retain and maintain talent in our companies and have innovative creative people, we’ve got to make sure that we’re in the right locations that are going to generate the interest of those people. All of our businesses are Internet-related, technology-related, entertainment-related businesses. So thinking we’re going to do that in a suburban setting where people have to walk a couple hundred yards across asphalt in the middle of winter, it’s probably not going cut it for the kind of folks that we’re trying to attract. Kids don’t leave suburban Detroit to go to suburban Chicago or suburban New York or suburban L.A. They’re going to the downtowns. Most of the activity and the kinds of areas and the companies that are attractive to people who are the best and brightest in our view want to be in the urban core.

How are you getting others to follow you downtown?

We created this non-profit academy that trains entrepreneurs called Bizdom U, and another way is through a venture fund we started called Detroit Venture Partners that Magic Johnson, myself and two other local Detroit guys partnered on to fund companies and startup businesses with a big Detroit bent and a Detroit bias. We will invest in other businesses, but primarily it is Detroit companies. And funding Detroit-based ventures for startup businesses. And then we’ve got our real estate piece of it. One of the things people don’t realize about Detroit is that a lot of young people are moving back to downtown, but the inventory is very, very low. Occupancy is at about 98 percent. You can’t find a lot of lofts and apartments and places to live in, so there’s a huge opportunity for real estate developers to actually build residential because there’s just not the inventory. A lot of people think, ‘oh there must be so many vacant places. There isn’t. So we’re looking to do stuff there and partnering with developers on that front as well.

Why do you love Detroit?

I was born here and raised here. My father was born here, my grandfather was born here. I find myself in a fortunate position to be able to, I think, contribute to help leading the city back. And I feel like that’s a great thing to do for the city, but it’s also a great thing to do for our business. We have a “doing good by doing well” strategy here. And the investment in Detroit is one that’s significant and growing, and we’re doing it again so we can help tie all the threads here in Detroit and bring back the kind of downtown that people envision or even maybe have never seen here. We’re also trying to make good investments, and we’ve got values of property that are low by any historical standards. So we’re very excited about it. We think it’s just the beginning. We’ve got about 4,000-plus people we’ve moved down here in the last 18 months. And were going to continue to move more down here and bring in more businesses and do everything we can with a bunch of other people who’ve been working very hard even before we got here and try to make Detroit the comeback city of this decade.

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I love stats, especially ones projecting good news.

According to an annual report based on "80,289 Interstate and Cross-Border Household Goods Relocations from January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011 by Atlas," Michigan "Migration" is balanced.

What does that mean exactly? For the first time in 6 years, the inbound and outbound is 55% or less of total shipments.

In plain english: the amount of people moving out of Michigan is roughly the same as those moving in.  This has not been the case since 2004.  Now that should put a smile on your face!

Add these findings to a recent article  I posted in late October about Detroit being the predicted leader in the nation for travel in 2012 by TravelClick, this should make the Michigan real estate and hotel industries feel very warm and fuzzy.  Well all of us for that matter :).


Pop culture trivia nights will benefit the Society’s Past>Forward campaign to fund new and expanded exhibits, technology upgrades and more

When did Diana Ross leave The Supremes? Can you name three Bad Boys-era Detroit Pistons?

Shake off the winter blues by testing your Detroit pop culture knowledge. It’s time for 313 Trivia.

The Detroit Historical Society will host 313 Trivia, three upcoming trivia nights at Hard Rock Cafe, 45 Monroe in Detroit, benefiting the Society’s Past>Forward fundraising campaign.

On the first Wednesday of each month from February to April, the public is welcome to team up and vie for the title of unabashed Detroit pop culture experts. 313 Trivia will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 1; March 7 and again on April 4. There will be a $10 suggested donation per person at the door.

Participants in 313 Trivia may choose to register as a team of three to five people, or register solo and be paired with a team of players. The games will feature five rounds of 10 trivia questions each. The team that takes first place in the competition will receive a complimentary Hard Rock Cafe tab for the evening, gift cards to the Hard Rock Cafe Detroit and two free admission passes each to visit the Detroit Historical Museum.

Second and third place team members will also take home prizes. All 313 Trivia players will enjoy drink and appetizer specials at Hard Rock Cafe Detroit.

Funds raised during the evening will go towards the Detroit Historical Society’s $20.1 million Past>Forward campaign, funding new and expanded exhibits, technology upgrades, educational offerings and enhancements at the Detroit Historical Museum, Dossin Great Lakes Museum and the Detroit Historical Society Collection. Detroit 313, the Society’s young professionals fundraising effort, is concurrently seeking 313 new members who will each pledge a total of $313 over the next three years to the Society as part of the Past>Forward effort.

“The Detroit Historical Society is committed to the continued growth of Detroit and the region, and we see 313 Trivia as another exciting way to celebrate the music, sports and pop culture events that bring us all together in the Motor City,” said Lisa Anga, director of development at the Detroit Historical Society. “It seemed a natural fit to host our trivia nights at Hard Rock Cafe, a destination for music and memorabilia in Detroit.”

To participate in 313 Trivia, players may register online at pastforward.detroithistorical.org or at the door.

All trivia questions will center on Detroit-based music, sports or entertainment, topics which directly tie into one of the Detroit Historical Museum’s upcoming additions. In 2012 the Society will unveil the Allesee Gallery of Culture. Visitors will recognize items in the exhibit as fundamentally Detroit – from Hudson’s to Gordie Howe, Motown to Albert Kahn. The gallery, established by local philanthropists Bob and Maggie Allesee, will also feature an interactive Culture Lab where guests will be able to make music, poetry or a video montage.

Learn more at pastforward.detroithistorical.org.



Watch at the 26:30 mark
Detroiters now have a dining choice that not only nourishes the body, but the local economy as well.

As of Tuesday, Jan. 10, COLORS-Detroit will serve up an eclectic lunch and dinner menu that offers superbly and ethically prepared meals at 311 East Grand River, Detroit, across from Paradise Valley (formerly Harmonie Park).

It is the second such restaurant in the country. The first COLORS restaurant was opened in New York City in 2006 by restaurant workers from the World Trade Center who were displaced by the 9-11 tragedy.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan (ROC-Michigan) founded the restaurant and training center to help hundreds of Detroiters secure living wage jobs, promote access to fresh and healthy food, including sourcing food from the city’s flourishing urban farms, and to incubate collectively owned food enterprises.

“We are committed to improving the working conditions for Southeast Michigan’s 134,000 restaurant workers, many of whom work for low pay with little to no benefits,” said Minsu Longiaru, director, ROC-Michigan. “COLORS-Detroit is just one way we can champion better working conditions for restaurant workers.”

While diners will enjoy knowing they’re supporting a novel community effort, at the end of the day, the food needs to taste great – and COLORS-Detroit delivers.

“We are celebrating the wonderful multicultural cuisine in our community while highlighting local ingredients,” said Phil Jones, executive chef and general manager, COLORS-Detroit. “For example, our Greek Meatballs are a tribute to the history of Detroit’s Greektown community made from local grass-fed beef and lamb, feta cheese from Zimmerman’s Creamery and fresh herbs sourced from GROWN IN DETROIT and D-Town Farms.” Jones continued, “Although our menu is international in scope, it’s accessible. It is an opportunity to expose metro Detroiters to food with international flair in a non-intimidating way.”

COLORS-Detroit was made possible by grants from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems, Detroit LISC, the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund, the Hudson-Webber Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Keeping the Dream Alive (the UAW Foundation) and the United Way of Southeast Michigan.

About the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan With over 750 members, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan (ROC-MI) is the state’s largest organization of restaurant workers. ROC-Michigan is an affiliate of ROC-United, a national restaurant worker organization founded after September 11, 2001 by restaurant workers displaced from the World Trade Center. ROC-United seeks to improve wages and working conditions for the nation’s low-wage restaurant workforce. ROC-United is the only national restaurant workers’ organization in the United States. Despite having more than 10 million restaurant workers and an economic impact of $1.7 billion annually, the restaurant industry is less than 1 percent unionized nationwide. Until ROC-United’s growth and development, the lack of organization left millions of restaurant workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation around the country. Through participatory research and policy work, employer engagement, workplace justice campaigns, membership and leadership development, and more, ROC-United has become a powerful national vehicle for restaurant workers to lift their collective voice on issues affecting all low-wage workers, including the minimum wage, paid sick days, compliance with basic employment standards, and lack of health care. For more information on ROC-Michigan please visit, www.rocmichigan.org.
Detroit Creative Corridor Center (the DC3) Director Matthew Clayson will travel abroad this week to share the best practices being used to accelerate Detroit’s creative economy as part of the North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity “Creative Industries” delegation to Algiers, Algeria and a panelist for the 2nd Annual U.S.–Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference in Marrakech, Morocco.

Clayson departs Wednesday for Algeria as part of a four-person “Creative Industries” delegation that includes Marete Webster from Americans for the Arts, John Cimineo from Creative Leaps International, amongst others. As part of the “Creative Industries” delegation, he will provide entrepreneurial training to Algerian creative practitioners. His topic of focus will be digital marketing and tools to reach a global audience.

Then, on January 16, 17 and 18 Clayson will be presenting at and participating in the Conference which has the goal of bringing together private, social, and cultural sector entrepreneurs to identify and implement specific projects and programs in the areas of entrepreneurship, arts & culture, education & research and science & technology.

“Believe it or not, Detroit and Algiers share similar assets and challenges,” said Clayson. “I look forward to sharing the best practices the Detroit Creative Corridor Center is using to accelerate our creative economy in Detroit in hopes of providing relevant examples of resources, tactics and strategies that can help advance the work of creative practitioners and grow creative economies in the Maghreb.”

The U.S.–Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference is sponsored by the U.S. State Department, U.S. North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO), Partners for a New Beginning (PNB), and The Aspen Institute. To learn more visit www.napeo.ma

About Detroit Creative Corridor Center 
Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) was established in 2010 to energize the creative economy in Detroit. Offering a suite of services and initiatives designed to accelerate the growth of creative sector industries and practitioners; DC3 is striving to transform Detroit into a global center of creative innovation. DC3 is a joint venture between Business Leaders for Michigan and the College for Creative Studies. www.DetroitCreativeCorridorCenter.com
Forbes

In another positive sign for the U.S. auto industry, General Motors took the top spot in China sales in 2011, displacing Japanese automaker Toyota to take a dominating share of what the Detroit automaker called its biggest international market.

GM sold 2.547 million vehicles in China in 2011, up 8.3% from the same period a year ago. Toyota, on the other hand, sold 883,000 vehicles in 2011. At 4% year-over-year growth, that’s Toyota’s slowest sales increase in China since 2004.

Ford’s China division posted 2011 sales of 519,390, up 7%.

After many years in the gutter, U.S. automakers seem to be on the rebound. As Forbes’ Joann Muller noted from the North American International Auto Show, “[U.S. automakers are] gaining market share, raking in profits, cranking up production, and welcoming consumers who are finally in the mood to spend.” Detroit’s Big Three are on the comeback after GM and Chrysler were bailed out in 2009, while Ford was on the ropes. Now, they seem to be dancing around the ring.

On the losing side we find Toyota. The large Japanese automaker suffered the effects of the massive earthquake-cum-tsunami of early 2011, which disrupted its production and reduced its market share. As it repairs its supply chain, Toyota aims to take its China sales north of one million in 2012.

GM is the clear outperformer in China. The largest of the Detroit automakers, GM sold one truck or car every 12 seconds in 2011. The company operates 11 joint ventures in China and two wholly owned foreign enterprises, and counts with more than 35,000 employees. It has expanded its dealership network to 2,700 and now covers all of China’s mainland provinces.

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Mary M. Chapman
New York Times


Navigating tables laden with lentil burgers and smoked wild salmon B.L.T.’s, Sharon Robinson escorted a guest toward paintings hanging on the high walls of the Cass Cafe, a venerable gathering place near Wayne State University popular with students, poets and visual artists. The cafe is about three miles from Cobo Center, the site of the North American International Auto Show, where press previews officially begin on Monday.

“It’s one of the bonuses of coming here, all this great stuff,” Ms. Robinson, 32, a Detroit poet and habitue of the cafe, said of the dozens of paintings by local and nationally known artists for sale on the walls. “They’ve been rotating them for years, but it seems like what’s been going on the last year or two, all the artsy folks around, more people have been paying them attention.”

Detroit will always be entwined with its automotive heritage, and after a few years in the abyss, the primary industry of the Motor City is looking up. Sales last year were at their highest levels since 2008, and analysts project an even more robust 2012.

The renewed fortunes of the big three automakers is a welcome story here, but a funny thing happened on the way through the recession. The region, which had long suffered the vagaries of a cyclical industry, was forced to rethink its identity and, yes, its dependence on an industry that, despite the improved near-term outlook, is hardly out of the weeds.

Skepticism toward an enduring automotive rebound has fomented a kind of can-do, post-industrial attitude here that embraces Detroit’s lineage and also separates from it. Young people, many from the suburbs, see opportunity in Detroit’s transition and are moving into affordable loft spaces, opening small businesses and generally contributing to a vision, not altogether cohesive, of a city that isn’t so dependent on one income stream.

“A lot of people feel like the auto industry is something that we don’t think about anymore,” said Amy Kaherl, facilitator for Detroit Soup, a two-year-old organization run by volunteers that uses entrance fees from monthly dinners to finance creative projects in and around Detroit. “People in this community are looking for something else, not for the next industry that’s going to save the city, but working toward a lot of sustainable things that can build this community up.”

“We saw a need to encourage people to try things that they’ve always wanted to try, on a smaller scale,” Ms. Kaherl said in a telephone interview.

There are also new-business incubators like Paper Street, based in suburban Ferndale, which leases office space in a building and offers classes ranging from photography to business. “We get more creative types rather than those from traditional automotive businesses,” Andy Didorosi, the company’s founder, said in an interview. “But whoever has a viable idea can get space with us. The idea is to get here, then go on to big things.”

Jacques Driscoll and his wife, Christine, spent years in San Diego before arriving here two years ago. They are opening a restaurant called Green Dot Stables, after the original owners’ equestrian involvement, near the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit. “We came here for a wedding and started talking about all the potential here, all the affordability and the growing cultural community, then how we wanted to live here,” Mr. Driscoll, 30, said. 

Gerald Dixon has been at the vanguard of the city’s growing creative class. For nearly a decade, in black-lighted basement gigs in the city’s historic Boston-Edison district, which once sheltered many of Detroit’s auto barons, including Henry Ford, his events have included spoken-word marathons, photo exhibits and a steady stream of concerts.

“We all know that it used to be you could go to the factory if you couldn’t find anything else,” said Mr. Dixon, who is in his late 40s. “Now, all that’s changed. Not only can we not get those jobs, a lot of us can’t get any job. So people come here and to places all over the city as outlets for whatever they’re feeling. Positive outlets. And some of us have been able to make a living at it.”

Two years ago, James Feagin IV lost his job as an economic and community development coordinator for a nonprofit. A chance encounter with an artist resulted in Mr. Feagin leading the marketing and strategic management efforts of BeloZro Visual Energy, a painting and graphic design collective, out of Mr. Feagin’s downtown loft.

“My peers and I see opportunity in everything. We know that there aren’t so many traditional jobs left, so we’ve got to figure out new ways to make money,” Mr. Feagin, 30, said. “When I got laid off, if there was anything less practical than going to work in the auto industry, it was trying to sell original art. But we’re doing it, in new ways.”


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