DETROIT (WWJ) – Perhaps no one has received more attention for efforts to revitalize the city of Detroit than Dan Gilbert, founder and CEO of Quicken Loans and the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
WWJ Newsradio 950’s Marie Osborne continues her series about the changing landscape in the city of Detroit in her series “Tale of Two Cities.”. Friday’s focus: Taking a closer look at major downtown development.
To date, Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures Group has purchased 17 buildings totaling 2.9 million square feet of commercial space in downtown Detroit.
His companies employ 7,500 full-time employees in Detroit.
Gilbert has steadily grown his real estate holdings in the city while the city of Detroit of faced an uncertain future.
Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s Emergency Financial Manager paints a bleak picture of the city’s future. Detroit is facing $15 billion in long-term debt and an operating deficit of $325 million.
“We just plow ahead and of course we are watching and try to interface and try to encourage and let them know our opinion and give them information and communicate to them, but I think finally this emergency financial manager situation will enable it to ‘shock treatment’ it a little bit, to get it to where it finally starts serving the people in the way it needs to be,” said Gilbert.
As a community leader, how does Gilbert propose changing the neighborhoods.
“The way the neighborhoods get help, in my view, there are job opportunities downtown. If there are job opportunities downtown and there is good transportation so people can get to their jobs – then their income levels are higher and then the neighborhoods are helped,” he said. “A job helps everything.”
Critics say Gilbert’s development plans are the result of a shrewd business strategy. Gilbert says, indeed, he’s in business to make money, but there is more:
“We have a philosophy we call doing well by doing good – we don’t think that there is a conflict in that at all,” Gilbert said. “If you looked at this on a spread sheet you wouldn’t do any of it. You have a blind faith that eventually if you are going to create value … that value will come to fruition one day. But for us if that value happens we just believe it will be more opportunity to invest back in the city and keep making it a better city because we are all here anyway – we might as well.”
Visitors frequently marvel at the paradox of a city that houses unique restaurants and businesses while at the same time has so many abandoned homes that threaten to swallow up the cities neighborhoods, once the back bone of Detroit.
Patricia Findly, hanging on to her immaculate, beloved home, paying her taxes, fights back resentment when people tell her she doesn’t have to live in Detroit.
“I know I don’t, but I love my home, I want to be in my home, this is what my husband and I work for,” said Findly. “I don’t think that I should have to run out because the city is not doing what they are supposed to do. And I know that they can do better.”
Detroit City Councilman Gary Brown says residents have to understand that progress and recovery, in this case, will come at a price.
“And if the city is going to grow, and be the city that we all want it to be – there are going to have to be sacrifices by people that are going to be unpopular,” Brown said.
As Dan Gilbert, the man who some say is single-handedly shaping the city’s core, stands on Woodward Avenue, what does he see?
“I see opportunity, I just see opportunity that we can have a thriving hustling, bustling downtown that nobody has ever witnessed in our lifetime,” he said. “There is no reason it can’t happen, the physical structure is there, the momentum is there, the opportunity is there.”
Gilbert notes that the prices for real estate in Detroit are lower than other major cities and believes that they will rise as demand grows.
In Midtown the very successful Avalon Bakery continues to produce thousand of baked goods. Owner Ann Perlow says despite all of the problems with city government, it’s all been good.
“It gives me a lot of pleasure to be able to know that this is also a city that’s given me a lot of my hopes and my dreams,” she said. “We definitely put out tax-wise in the city of Detroit, but it doesn’t really bother me … it’s a trade-off.”
Cab driver Oneita Jackson’s role in Detroit?
“Really, how do you change Detroit? I live in Detroit, I speak to people, I embrace it,” she said.
And for Heath Carr, the man who selected Detroit to build fine wristwatches, he’s used to being asked ‘why Detroit?’
He always has the same answer: “Why not Detroit, how could you not do this here?”
Catch up on all the stories from Marie Osborne’s series: A Tale Of Two Cities
WWJ Newsradio 950′s Marie Osborne reports on the changing landscape in the city of Detroit in her series “Tale of Two Cities” this week. Listen on WWJ Newsradio 950 and come back to CBSDetroit.com each day for more.