Jackson (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
George Jackson Jr., one of the most influential forces in Detroit development, is stepping down from his top position at the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.
Jackson began his tenure as president and CEO of the quasi-public agency in 2002, the year Ford Field opened downtown. When he officially resigns March 31, he will have played a major role in dozens of major projects that represent billions in investment and a legacy of strongly rebounding “greater downtown” — a 7.2-mile swath of the city from downtown to Midtown and from Corktown to the east riverfront.
The major deals where Jackson played a role are nearly too long to list. To name a few: The Detroit RiverWalk, Campus Martius Park, the recruitment of Whole Foods and Meijer, the restored Westin Book Cadillac and Fort Shelby Doubletree, the revamped and expanded Cobo Center. He has vowed to stay around past March 31 if needed to shepherd one of the biggest deals of his career: the $650 million, 45-block planned entertainment district that will be anchored by a new home for the Detroit Red Wings.
“The time is right. I’ll have more freedom, and the city is in a good place in terms of the foundation that’s been laid,” Jackson told The Detroit News Thursday. “I’m still going to be in Detroit, I’ll just be on the other side of the table.” He will leave to form his own consulting firm.
Questions have swirled over Jackson’s future since newly elected Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan named his attorney and longtime friend, Thomas Lewand Sr., to oversee the city’s economic growth initiatives. The announcement marked a major shift in how development projects will be handled in Detroit and appeared to diminish the role of Jackson and the quasi-public Economic Development Corp.
The move was part of a broad power-sharing deal struck between Duggan and the city’s Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, which gives the mayor control of two-thirds of city operations.
Jackson’s agency had been poised to play an expanded role in the city’s restructuring.
Leaving is, “Something I’ve been thinking about a lot,” Jackson added in his comments to The News. “The mayor has a right do what he thinks is right. I’m a fighter. I’ve survived a lot.”
He has worked in the field of economic development since 1984.
He has also served as an adviser to corporate, political, government, community, civic and educational executives and leaders on economic development issues.
Jackson will continue to serve as a member of DEGC’s board of directors and its executive committee after March 31. The DEGC Board has begun the search for Jackson’s successor.
“George Jackson is an exceptional leader, and we will miss him tremendously at DEGC,” said Rod Gillum, chairman of the board of the DEGC, in a statement released Thursday morning. “With Jackson at the helm, DEGC has had a remarkable track record of success — even through incredibly challenging times. I have no doubt he will continue his success, and the city of Detroit will see the benefits of that as well.”
Mayor Mike Duggan said, “George and I have been good friends for many years. I have enormous respect for the work he has done. His leadership over the years at DEGC has helped lay the groundwork for a very bright future for Detroit. I wish him well as he begins the next chapter of his life.”
Nolan Finley contributed.