If there’s a town that can muscle the rest of the deal, it might be the Motor City.
Detroit’s historic David Whitney Building, once a treasure at the city’s gateway, had fallen into such dramatic disrepair that during the bleak days of municipal bankruptcy, it had trees growing from it. At the time a symbol of Detroit’s disastrous decline, today the Whitney is emblematic of the Motor City’s accelerating rebound.
A $92-million restoration, completed in late 2014, revived the Whitney’s gilded, Neo-Renaissance splendor. Aloft Detroit, a tasteful Starwood hotel, occupies seven floors of the Whitney, whose 108 high-end apartment units are fully occupied.
It’s a story that’s being repeated, with differing twists, up and down Woodward Avenue, the city’s north-south spine, where at any given dawn, sleepy-eyed Detroiters are out exercising and walking their dogs, just like any normal city. The sidewalks are wide and clean.
Comerica Park, home to baseball’s Tigers, and Ford Field, the indoor turf of the NFL’s Lions, anchor the city’s center. Only now, it’s a big-league trio, with the recent launch of the uber-impressive $863-million Little Caesars Arena for the NHL’s Red Wings and the NBA’s Pistons, recently returned from the suburbs. Among major projects in the skeletal phase are Little Caesars Restaurant Company’s new corporate headquarters and the Mike Ilitch Business School at Wayne State University, named for the late Tigers owner and Little Caesars founder remembered in Detroit as “Mr. Ilitch.” Look north from the Whitney’s upper floors and behold a panorama of steel, churning dirt and ambition.
None of this is happening by accident.
“They’re doing a lot of good things,” says Larry Moretti, a Pennsylvania-based site selector who took part in “Detroit is on the Rise,” a two-day forum in late October hosted by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. Moretti, principal of LFM Corporate Location Solutions, is upbeat about what he sees. “They’ve got a lot of challenges going forward, for sure,” Moretti tells Site Selection, “but they’ve got momentum.”
Tracey Hyatt Bosman, managing director of Biggins Lacy Shapiro, also speaks of forward movement: “There’s a lot of development, a lot of excitement, a lot going on from a livability standpoint. That will continue to drive the business side.”
A Real Rate of Return
The year that just ended has been a good one for Detroit, with some $60 million in capital investment and over 1,000 new jobs facilitated through DEGC, according to Peter Chapman, the organization’s executive vice president. Site Selection’s Conway Projects Database identifies $3 billion worth of corporate expansion projects throughout Detroit’s five-county, core-based statistical area since January 2017. The highlights go beyond sheer numbers:
- Google, Microsoft and LinkedIn all announced plans to place outposts in Detroit.
- Detroit submitted a bid for Amazon’s HQ2, and no one blinked; Inc. magazine ranks Detroit among its top five contenders, asserting, “There aren’t many cities that could offer Amazon a truly urban environment with an incredibly business-friendly local government and affordable housing.”
- Dan Gilbert announced plans to invest another $2.1 billion in downtown development projects. Gilbert’s Quicken Loans and subsidized swaths of new construction produced “Gilbertville,” the city’s southern anchor and the earliest hint that Detroit’s rebuilt engine had fired. The newly announced projects, says Gilbert, will create 3.2 million sq. ft. (297,290 sq. m.) of office and living space and up to 24,000 jobs — 9,000 of them permanent.
- Global auto supplier Flex-N-Gate broke ground on a $95-million manufacturing facility that will create up to 750 jobs at Detroit’s I-94 Industrial Park.
- Sakthi, the Indian manufacturer of steering knuckles for major automakers, announced its third expansion since arriving in Detroit in 2014. The $7-million project, to accommodate a new contract with Volkswagen, is expected to create 200 jobs. Sakthi, with the city’s support, hires heavily among Detroiters who have done time in prison.
- In another sign of stability, Detroit re-elected Mike Duggan, the mayor who led the city out of bankruptcy in 2014.
The gears have shifted. Detroit is coming along faster than a lot of people might realize.
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