A Shocking Sight In Downtown Detroit: People

From Forbes
July 10, 2012
By: Joann Muller

Editor’s Note: This post kicks off a new special section called “Reinventing America,” which we launched Tuesday. As part of this effort, more than a dozen Forbes contributors and staff writers will focus attention on the challenges facing towns, cities and traditional industries across the nation–and highlight the growing number of success stories we’re seeing, too. Over the coming months we’ll have stories, rankings of who’s doing it right (and wrong), and, we hope, great conversations with readers, so please join in. It kicks off with this dispatch from our Detroit Bureau Chief, Joann Muller:

The city of Detroit is on the brink of insolvency. So why is it that I’ve never been more optimistic about its future?

A year ago, I wrote a Forbes cover story, Detroit: City of Hope, which included a conversation with many of the city’s movers and shakers about the challenges of trying to reinvent the Motor City. The headlines since then certainly have been discouraging, at least on the government side. Mayor Dave Bing has been a disappointment and he and the do-nothing City Council can’t seem to agree on anything. Meanwhile, the city’s top lawyer is dithering in court to void an agreement with the state of Michigan for a financial oversight board. The political gamesmanship is probably just delaying the inevitable, which is either the governor’s appointment of a slash-and-burn emergency financial manager to run Detroit or a municipal bankruptcy filing, or both.

But all you have to do is visit Woodward Avenue, the spine of Detroit’s central business and cultural district, to see that something quite encouraging is happening. Woodward used to be Detroit’s Fifth Avenue or Broadway, a thriving retail and entertainment district anchored by the old Hudson’s Department store and the famous Fox Theatre. By the time I moved to Detroit in the late 1980s, all that was gone, and Woodward was a Ghost Town, just one more of those scary, abandoned places you didn’t go in the Motor City.

But not long ago, I found myself driving up Woodward on a Tuesday afternoon, and I was shocked — shocked — to see dozens of pedestrians strolling along the street. They were soaking up the sunshine at outdoor cafes, or taking a break from work at one of the downtown office buildings to stretch their legs or run errands. In any other city, this would be unremarkable. But in Detroit, it was an amazing sight. Seriously.

Friends who work downtown marvel at the number of people they see riding bikes or walking dogs in the neighborhood. They joke that joggers are running for exercise, not out of fear.

People are moving back to the city’s core. Yes, Detroit lost about 25 percent of its population in the past decade, but young professionals are moving in, lured, in part, by cash incentives offered by some of the city’s largest employers, who have added an estimated 10,000 jobs downtown in the past 18 months.

A year ago, five companies — Quicken Loans, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan, Compuware, DTE Energy and Strategic Staffing Solutions — pledged more than $4 million to help employees offset the cost of buying, renting or renovating a home in the downtown area. The program was modeled after a similar one a couple of miles to the north, in the area known as Midtown, home to big employers like Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Hospital. Both programs are part of an effort by these so-called “anchor institutions” to attract 15,000 talented young people downtown by 2015. So far, nearly 500 people have taken advantage of the two programs, with many more applications under way.

The problem now is there aren’t enough apartments for all the people who want to live downtown. But that’s attracting more developers who are remodeling old buildings and creating loft apartments as fast as they can.

Restaurants and nightclubs are multiplying, too. I was at a friend’s bar over the weekend and was delighted as he rattled off all the development activity going on in his neighborhood, where the only other business currently is a strip club.

As I listened to him talk about the new steakhouse opening soon on the corner, and the buildings being rehabbed down the block, I was struck by the fact that entrepreneurs and large employers, too, aren’t waiting for Detroit to solve its fiscal crisis. They sense that Detroit’s on the cusp of a rebound and they want to get in on the ground floor, while it’s still cheap. Even Twitter is opening an office downtown.

A year ago, I wrote a Forbes cover story, Detroit: City of Hope, which included a conversation with many of the city’s movers and shakers about the challenges of trying to reinvent the Motor City. The headlines since then certainly have been discouraging, at least on the government side. Mayor Dave Bing has been a disappointment and he and the do-nothing City Council can’t seem to agree on anything. Meanwhile, the city’s top lawyer is dithering in court to void an agreement with the state of Michigan for a financial oversight board. The political gamesmanship is probably just delaying the inevitable, which is either the governor’s appointment of a slash-and-burn emergency financial manager to run Detroit or a municipal bankruptcy filing, or both.

But all you have to do is visit Woodward Avenue, the spine of Detroit’s central business and cultural district, to see that something quite encouraging is happening. Woodward used to be Detroit’s Fifth Avenue or Broadway, a thriving retail and entertainment district anchored by the old Hudson’s Department store and the famous Fox Theatre. By the time I moved to Detroit in the late 1980s, all that was gone, and Woodward was a Ghost Town, just one more of those scary, abandoned places you didn’t go in the Motor City.

But not long ago, I found myself driving up Woodward on a Tuesday afternoon, and I was shocked — shocked — to see dozens of pedestrians strolling along the street. They were soaking up the sunshine at outdoor cafes, or taking a break from work at one of the downtown office buildings to stretch their legs or run errands. In any other city, this would be unremarkable. But in Detroit, it was an amazing sight. Seriously.

Friends who work downtown marvel at the number of people they see riding bikes or walking dogs in the neighborhood. They joke that joggers are running for exercise, not out of fear.

People are moving back to the city’s core. Yes, Detroit lost about 25 percent of its population in the past decade, but young professionals are moving in, lured, in part, by cash incentives offered by some of the city’s largest employers, who have added an estimated 10,000 jobs downtown in the past 18 months.

A year ago, five companies — Quicken Loans, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan, Compuware, DTE Energy and Strategic Staffing Solutions — pledged more than $4 million to help employees offset the cost of buying, renting or renovating a home in the downtown area. The program was modeled after a similar one a couple of miles to the north, in the area known as Midtown, home to big employers like Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Hospital. Both programs are part of an effort by these so-called “anchor institutions” to attract 15,000 talented young people downtown by 2015. So far, nearly 500 people have taken advantage of the two programs, with many more applications under way.

The problem now is there aren’t enough apartments for all the people who want to live downtown. But that’s attracting more developers who are remodeling old buildings and creating loft apartments as fast as they can.

Restaurants and nightclubs are multiplying, too. I was at a friend’s bar over the weekend and was delighted as he rattled off all the development activity going on in his neighborhood, where the only other business currently is a strip club.

As I listened to him talk about the new steakhouse opening soon on the corner, and the buildings being rehabbed down the block, I was struck by the fact that entrepreneurs and large employers, too, aren’t waiting for Detroit to solve its fiscal crisis. They sense that Detroit’s on the cusp of a rebound and they want to get in on the ground floor, while it’s still cheap. Even Twitter is opening an office downtown.

 

Detroit Regional Chamber’s Political Action Committee Announces Primary Election Endorsements for Johnson, Peters

DETROIT, July 3, 2012 – Today, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Political Action Committee (PAC) Board of Directors announced endorsements for State Senator Bert Johnson and U.S. Representative Gary Peters in key congressional races in the primary and general elections in Michigan.

“With districts redrawn, this year’s choices for several of the key races are even more difficult than usual, pitting many great candidates and incumbents against each other,” said the Chamber’s Vice President of Government Affairs Brad Williams. “However, the Chamber PAC Board remains committed to its tradition of putting partisan politics aside and endorsing the candidates we believe best align with the Chamber’s pro-business goals and good public policy. While no candidate aligns 100 percent with the Chamber’s policy positions, I am confident in these candidates’ ability to usher through legislation that will help move the economic needle and improve the quality in life in Southeast Michigan.”

The Chamber PAC Board of Directors regularly meets to identify and support pro-business candidates and policies that support the Chamber’s public policy priorities. After careful consideration, the Chamber PAC Board of Directors made endorsements based on responses to a Chamber PAC survey, input from PAC members and personal interviews with leading candidates interested in the Chamber’s endorsement.

In the race for the 14th Congressional District, the Chamber PAC Board faced a difficult choice between Congressmen Hansen Clarke and Gary Peters.

“There are no easy decisions in a primary election featuring quality people like Gary Peters and Hansen Clarke,” Williams said. “Congressman Clarke is a relentless advocate for our community whose work ethic is only outpaced by his integrity. However, Gary Peters’ leadership potential in the Congress and track record of effectiveness speaks for itself. We believe he will make a fine representative for this diverse new district.”

In the 13th Congressional District, the Chamber’s PAC announced it would support current State Senator Bert Johnson.

“Bert Johnson has been one of the rising stars in Michigan politics over the past few years. With all the gridlock paralyzing politics at the federal level, his no-nonsense approach, commitment to producing results and fresh perspective will serve us well in Washington, D.C,” Williams said.

About the Detroit Regional Chamber
With over 20,000 members and affiliates, that employ over three quarters of a million workers, the Detroit Regional Chamber is one of the largest chambers of commerce in the country. The Chamber’s mission is carried out through business attraction efforts, advocacy, strategic partnerships and providing valuable benefits to members. For more information, please visit detroitchamber.com.

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