September 3, 2014 at 1:00 am


How partnerships build communities

Finney: The MEDC's work helps spur investment in Michigan communities. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)

Like pieces of a mosaic fitting securely and strategically together, the range of current commercial and residential development projects in Detroit evokes an optimistic portrait of the city’s future. After years of hopes, dreams and one too many disappointments, there is plenty of brick-and-mortar evidence of a city on the road to renewal.

Two projects to break ground by spring will attract what is undoubtedly the most essential ingredient of a thriving, prosperous community – people.

On Aug. 26, the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) gave final approval under the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Michigan Community Revitalization Program to support Orleans Landing, a project of 20 new buildings, from one to four stories spanning four city blocks. The other approved project is Du Charme Place, four four-story residential buildings, including studios, two-bedroom apartments and a fitness center.

In total, the $61-million Orleans Landing and $38.5 million Du Charme Place developments will create 463 low-rise units in what has been a downtrodden area along the Detroit riverfront. Orleans Landing is near the Dequindre Cut Greenway trail and across from Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ newly opened Outdoor Adventure Center. Du Charme is located about one-half mile north of the Orleans Landing project.

The impressive renderings of the Orleans site designed by St. Louis-based McCormack Baron Salazar illustrate a contemporary urban walkable neighborhood. Orleans Landing will include 10,000-square feet of retail space containing coffee shops and restaurants. It’s the type of “an urban sense of place” cited in a report by George Washington University School of Business that could “provide an economic foundation for the U.S. economy, similar to the building of drivable suburbs in the mid to late 20th century.”

The report, “Foot Traffic Ahead,” published in July, notes top-ranking metro areas have an average 38 percent higher GDP per capita compared to other metro regions. While Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle take the top spots in the survey, Detroit is listed as an up-and-coming 21st-century livable urban area.

Clearly, attracting private investment, jobs and residents to Detroit is indispensable to the state’s economic comeback and vital for the long-term growth for Michigan.

Look around at a city emerging from the extremely difficult, complex, but necessary bankruptcy process. After decades of abandoned plans and a scarred, forsaken urban landscape, the pieces of long-term growth are emerging in a skyline of new buildings, a mass transit system to transport people over a 3-mile trek of historic Woodward Avenue, and, a fledgling entrepreneurial-friendly environment cited by Brookings Institution as one of the top urban innovation districts in the country. All made possible through strategic use of state economic development programs, funds and grants.

And within the next several months, there will be signs to mark the early stage building of a sprawling multi-purpose event center anchored by the Detroit Red Wings Arena that will provide a crucial link from downtown to midtown, creating a seamless retail, residential and commercial district along the city’s Main Street.

From next fall through late 2016, construction on the 463 residential units a few blocks from Detroit’s riverfront will be completed. Shortly thereafter, there will be another long-awaited sign of Detroit’s renewal — people walking the streets in the city they call home.

Michael Finney is president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.