Day Three – Downtown

The day was spent downtown, exploring the vast abandonment that has been occurring in this area. According to residents, a majority of the buildings in the downtown area are now in the ownership of Detroit businessman, Dan Gilbert. Dan Gilbert is the chairman and founder of Quicken Loans as well as owner of the NBA basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Gilbert founded Rock Ventures LLC, and is also a partner for Detroit Venture partners. His goal is to aid the redevelopment of downtown Detroit by fostering a business incubation process that invites technology and small business startups to lease space in these vacant buildings. The process is designed to bring small companies that can feed off each other and ultimately diversify the business portfolio of the city. Gilbert has also moved his company, Quicken Loans, to downtown Detroit, which brings around 1,700 employees and a potential for 4,000 to the city’s core.

Quicken Loans founder buys historic Detroit site, Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert buys historic Federal Reserve Building in downtown Detroit,

Interestingly enough, during my tour around Grand Circus Park, I learned that Gilbert owns the Madison Theater Building which he bought last year in 2011 to house Detroit Venture Partners and start the incubation process. The surprising part was that this building is located right next to the David Broderick tower and is an integral building to the site and project idea. The building has just opened and now has a few startup companies that are in the beginning stages of engaging the business incubator process.

Detroit Venture Partners,

Quicken Loans completes deal for Madison Theatre building; will be renovated for business incubator,

Refurbished M@dison Building shows off entrepreneurial chops,

After a short lunch break at Lafeyette Coney Island, I took a trip on the People Mover, an elevated train that provides quick access to many different areas of downtown. The train is not widely used and has been an issue of consternation with residents of Detroit. It provides little service to the downtown area due to the lack of people living downtown, ridership is meek, and it contributes to a lack of street life at ground level, as those who would possibly walk just take the train. The project was instigated and completed by the controversial Mayor Coleman Young and opened in 1987.

Detroit People Mover,

The architecture in downtown Detroit is amazing. Through the architecture, you can see that the city was enjoying its best times during the early 20th century. Many of the buildings were built before 1940, and the city has a large population of high-rise buildings. As you walk around it really is amazing at how many of these buildings are vacant, some in worse shape than others. Some have been left to decay for years, even decades. Due to when most of these buildings were built, many of them are difficult to retrofit into many of the functions required by businesses today. Most of the buildings have no future due to this, or their only hope is to be transformed into housing condominiums or lofts. This has been the model for quite some time, but it may become successful in the near future due to the desire by many young people to live in the downtown environment.

In the Grand Circus Park area, almost all of the buildings around the site currently are vacant, although some work was being done to several of the buildings. The park itself does not serve as much of a gathering space for people. At the time of visit, there was nobody present in the park space. According to residents, there is quite a bit of movement in and around the site during baseball and football games at the neighboring Tiger’s Stadium and Ford Field. Although there are times of little movement in this area, the baseball and football seasons bring movement almost year round. Baseball runs from the spring through fall and football runs from the fall through winter. There is only a short time of inactivity which occurs around the time of my visit.