May 30, 2014 at 11:39 am

REBUILDING DETROIT

In Detroit, streetlights are key in fighting blight

Working streetlights, which evade much of the city, are a foundation of public safety. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

I travel regularly with my leadership team across the U.S., Europe and Asia to meet with investors and convince them that DTE Energy and the state of Michigan are solid investments. At some point in every meeting we are asked, in a concerned tone, “how do you feel about the future of Detroit?”

Today I am able to answer them quickly and confidently: The future of Detroit is brighter than at any time in my 20 years here. As is often the case, when newspaper headlines are reporting the worst, reality has hurried on. I believe we are on the cusp of great things in Detroit.

I am able to answer confidently because DTE Energy’s unique role in the community gives me an insider’s view into many of the efforts underway to revitalize our home city. We are doing our part to rebuild Detroit — but we are joined in those efforts by many others who are driving the city forward.

Inadequate street lighting has been a serious safety issue in Detroit for decades. It won’t be for much longer. We are serving as expert advisers to the new Detroit Public Lighting Authority. The authority is moving aggressively to light our city, adding 500 new lights per week — 20,000 by year-end. Most neighborhoods will have new lights this year, and by the end of 2015 all of Detroit will have streetlights befitting a major city.

DTE Energy crews are reworking energy infrastructure along Woodward to enable construction of the M-1 light rail system. This project — being funded by a host of civic-minded businesses and foundations — will connect Midtown and downtown and bring renewed vitality to much in between.

Our crews are scurrying to construct the electric and gas infrastructure necessary to support the new Red Wings arena and the events center district that will surround it. Major investments by the Ilitch family in this area promise to catalyze a wave of exciting new development.

DTE is working hand-in-hand with the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force – led by Dan Gilbert – to remove long-abandoned homes. This, in combination with our mayor’s creative efforts to spur investment in foreclosed properties – is paving the way for investment in Detroit neighborhoods.

Finally, DTE has been asked to take over operation of the struggling Detroit Public Lighting Department electric system. We will invest in a first-class system that will bring reliable supply to the Detroit Public Schools, Wayne State University, Detroit Medical Center, Detroit Institute of Arts and many other city institutions.

As businesses, we need to continue to find creative ways to build momentum in the city. For example, we will employ 500 high school youth this year in the DTE Energy Summer Jobs program and will spend $150 million this year with Detroit-based companies through the Pure Michigan Business Connect effort.

I have lived and worked in Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh over the span of my career and watched those cities emerge from very tough conditions. The common theme in all three of these cities was strong political leadership accompanied by strong partnership from the business community.

Those conditions exist in Detroit today. Mayor Mike Duggan is doing a great job and is working cooperatively with a progressive City Council. Gov. Snyder cares deeply about the restoration of Detroit. And business leaders like Dan Loepp, Dan Gilbert, Chris Ilitch, Cindy Pasky and Roger Penske have stepped up to the plate and are leading efforts that will change the face of Detroit in short order.

These developments allow me to respond to investors’ questions about Detroit with confidence: The future of Detroit is bright and DTE Energy is excited to be part of it.

Correction An earlier version of this column misidentified the organization Dan Gilbert heads up, which is the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force. We regret the error.

Gerard M. Anderson is chairman and CEO of DTE Energy.