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Woodward Avenue (Photograph by Mike Gray)

During a tour of the iconic Fisher Building in the the New Center area of Detroit, the owner of the building recounted a story. Last year the firm that had been hired to market the property suggested that the owners install a half-pipe in the Art Deco atrium. The owners asked how that would help drive new tenants to the property. The marketing firm responded: “Finding new tenants is the easy part. Making this property relevant again is the challenge.”

I really enjoyed that story because it embodied my entire experience in Detroit during last week’s ULI 2018 Spring Meeting. Detroit is a city that I had some very negative preconceived notions about. From crime ridden streets to a faltering economy, I can freely admit that Detroit was not at the top of my list for a visit. However, when I arrived I found a city that is clawing its way back to relevance again.  Everywhere I turned there were citizens abuzz with excitement about the future of this once bankrupt city.

The built environment has played a significant part in creating that enthusiasm. Thanks to the vision of numerous developers across Detroit, citizens now have new places to live, work, and play in environments once thought impossible in this industrial bedrock of the Mid-West. Attendees of the Meeting were provided opportunities to witness billions of dollars worth of new real estate investments being made all across Detroit. From the revitalization of the Campus Martius and Woodward Avenue to the incredibly ambitious 50-block District Detroit project, the entire city was recreating its identity for the new century.

We heard from local business titans Dan Gilbert, Founder and Chairman of QuickenLoans, and Chris Ilitch, President and CEO of Ilitch Holdings. Neither of these two speakers had real estate backgrounds. However, they believe in Detroit and had the capital to make a difference. Both men are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in new buildings, new jobs for Detroit, and a renewed spirit.

The major projects like the brand new Little Ceasar’s Arena were exciting to see. What got me most excited though was the investments being made by small businesses. On my Midtown to Motown Tour last Tuesday, I got to see how small businesses are taking advantage of this new built environment by creating new restaurants, breweries, shops, technologies, and more. Detroit is a city that has become relevant again. I would invite you to check out this video that Dan Gilbert shared so that you can see for yourself: