June 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Bill Pulte IV: Building magnate's grandson uses family formula to clear blight in Metro Detroit neighborhoods

Michiganian of the Year: Bill Pulte Jr.
Michiganian of the Year: Bill Pulte Jr.:

Ray Crighton, a lifetime resident of Brightmoor, stands atop a hill on Lyndon Street gazing at a scene he’d never thought he’d see: a rolling, several acre field of green.

Gone are the mountains of tires. The two drug houses were razed, no more stench from rotting mounds of trash, no more sound of gunshots.

“I heard it all before,” said Crighton, 48. “They’d come in with a single bulldozer for one day and be gone the next. But Bill Pulte did what he said he was going to do. It’s been amazing.”

Bill Pulte IV, the 26-year-old grandson of Bill Pulte Sr., head of the country’s largest home-building company, was the first to champion the idea that rebuilding a new Detroit requires tearing down the old one first.

“Historically, the approach to blight elimination has been sporadic, nonthoughtful, nonstrategic and laden with government bureaucracy,” Pulte said. “At some point, you just have to say enough is enough. Let’s get it done.”

To that end, Pulte raised about $750,000 and created the nonprofit, the Blight Authority. Applying the Pulte home-building model to blight, Pulte sought to clear entire neighborhoods of dangerous structures, saving money in the process and providing immediate results, like criminals disappearing. “Just like when you turn the light on,” he says, “cockroaches tend to scattter.”

In Eastern Market, 10 blocks were cleared in 10 days. Similarly, in Brightmoor, the Blight Authority cleared out 14 city blocks. Among the debris: almost a dozen boats, over than 300 car tires and one dead body.

Growing up in Boca Raton, Fla., the son of Mark and Noreen Pulte — his dad is the CEO of Mark Timothy Inc., Florida’s largest luxury homebuilder — the young Pulte said he never wanted to work in the family business. “When you grow up all you hear about is two by fours and construction. That gets old real quick.”

While attending Northwestern University, Pulte got his helicopter pilot’s license and started an aerial photography company, employing 12 people at its peak. Upon graduation, he worked for businessman Roger Penske’s private equity fund. In 2011, Pulte started his own private equity firm, Pulte Capital Partners LLC, purchasing a kitchen and bath countertop maker in Illinois and air-conditioning business in Florida.

Pulte says when he first took anti-blight to his grandfather, he balked. “He told me, ‘Look, I’ve been involved in Detroit for 60 years and I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.’ ” Now that the Duggan administration has has formed it’s own Blight Task Force, Pulte said: “I do think the Duggan administration is on the cusp of getting this done.”

Pulte is now clearing blight in Pontiac, and he’s consulting with other cities across the country. As far as the Blight Authority is concerned, Pulte said: “The future looks bright.”

Marney Rich Keenan

Bill Pulte / Robin Buckson / The Detroit News