Le Retour de Detroit
Updated: Jan 6
As you likely know, Detroit has gone through some rough decades in the recent past.
But thanks to people invested in the City - including commercial developers - Detroit is starting to have a renaissance.
There are a lot of cool, new developments in the City now.
I hope everyone had a great holiday season and a happy new year. Hopefully you were able to celebrate safely with your family and not read this dumb blog.
But because I know you missed it, I’d like to begin the year talking about something upbeat – the revitalization of my hometown – Detroit, Michigan. Technically, I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Detroit, but I identify the D as my hometown.
As you probably know, Detroit has been the butt of many jokes for the past 30 years as it faced some really difficult times. But in the last 5-10 years, the City has seen a significant revitalization with the help of commercial developers. Detroit is on its way back – and it's great to see.
The Brief History
I’m not going to bore you with an in-depth, detailed history of this once great City. But it's important to know that in 1950, the City of Detroit had 1.85 million residents. And in the current (2020) census, its population is expected to be about 670,000.
There are lots of reasons for the decline – terrible management, racism, changing auto industry, etc. But the reality is the city had a steep decline in population. And because it has such a large geographic footprint, that’s why you see so many boarded up and/or burnt out buildings. There is just a lot of vacant, empty space in the city. And that (along with the crime issues) helped Detroit become the warning sign for the decay of American cities.
But that vacancy also provides a huge opportunity for real estate developers. And a lot of them are taking advantage.
It has really started with Dan Gilbert – who has been at the forefront of the Detroit rebirth. You may know Gilbert is the co-founder of Quicken Loans. He is also from the metro Detroit area. And at some point in the last 15 or so years, he decided he wanted to spearhead the revitalization of Detroit. As a result, he bought up – at very low rates – many buildings and real estate in the City. And he has renovated and/or built many commercial buildings there.
Other developers are now piggybacking off Gilbert’s work and developing their own projects. The redevelopment started in Downtown and the immediately surrounding areas like Corktown and Midtown. But it is slowly starting to spread farther. Again, Detroit has a huge geographic footprint – bigger than Manhattan. So it is going to take a while. The growth, though, is continuing.
For a native Metro Detroiter, these are exciting times. More exciting than at any time of my not so short life. The amazing thing about Detroit is I can’t think of another large city in the US where a developer can go in, buy a bunch of land in the heart of the city at reasonable prices, and develop their own destination.
And developers are doing this with some really cool projects. Among others, I encourage you to check out –
True North – a Quonset hut community;
Central Station renovation – Ford Motor Company purchased the abandoned station and is renovating it;
Hudson’s Site redevelopment – this site in the heart of downtown sat vacant for 20 years until recently;
The Foundation Hotel - an old fire station renovated into a boutique hotel; and
Campus Martius – where there is an outdoor skating rink in the winter.
These are really unique, cool destinations that are brand new to the city. And that is just a fraction of what is going on in Detroit.
Like I said, its an exciting time to see the rebirth of a major American city. I encourage you to check out what’s going on up there. And hopefully Detroit will no longer be the punchline for jokes.