Racing impresario Roger Penske put it simply:

"This success" in Detroit "is a by-product of many people and many people who care," he said in an interview on the grounds of this month's 2015 Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. "In today's world, successful people are always looking out front."

He's right. They're also looking for smart places to deploy their capital and book a return; to gain early-mover advantage over those too timid to move; to shape a narrative that is kind to them, their town, its people or all three.

The inventory of increasingly stunning business developments — housing in historic Brush Park this week, the Ilitch entertainment district this month, a stream of new corporate tenants downtown, the expanding Gilbert empire every week, news of more restaurants and renovated apartments — continues to build in a town given up for dead.

Just a few short years ago, and for decades before, such accumulating evidence of private capital, civic enthusiasm, business confidence and pent-up market demand trained on Detroit would have been deemed delusional.

Not anymore, notwithstanding skeptics who insist this city can "never" break from its 50-year cycle of decline. The evidence, and market reaction to it, increasingly appears to be proving them, if not wrong, then overly negative.

Add the financial restructuring of the city through its massive Chapter 9 bankruptcy; the ascension of new political leadership; the regionalization of key assets and a renewed effort to improve public education; the confluence of public and private money to fund a "grand bargain."

The result is a sharply different story than the stock narrative tracing decades of decline and dysfunction. Or, as Penske put it: "People are surprised when they come to Detroit because the negative publicity we faced year in and year out masks what's really going on here."

Partly, because perception lags reality. But for a long time, the reality of Detroit justified the negativity, informing what is fast becoming dated perception to those who bother to look.

In the contemporary reality of the emerging Detroit, business, political and philanthropic interests are aligned in ways this town hasn't seen in a long time. It's making a difference.

When the legendary Max Fisher and, last month, Al Taubman passed from the scene, and Detroit's three automakers teetered on the edge of collapse, a golden age of civic engagement and philanthropy was feared to be endangered.

Who would replace them, the irreplaceable? Who would assume their outsized roles of largesse, commitment and iconoclasm? Detroit, it was assumed, would not be the same for a generation come of age amid a downward municipal spiral and urban population flight.

But a broader array of players forms the new generation, from billionaire entrepreneurs like Gilbert, Penske and Ilitch to corporate CEOs, foundation heads, cultural leaders and elected officials whose decision-making in favor of Detroit adds heft and credibility to the Quicken Loans mortgage mogul's massive bets on Detroit.

The remarkable confluence of leadership and risk-taking, generosity and activism, is driving change as much as exploiting it. From the election of Mayor Mike Duggan and a new City Council to the attention of Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican legislators, political leaders complement business and civic leaders in mutually beneficial ways.

The biggest risk is assuming it will stay that way. That Dan Gilbert will keep buying and investing; that Penske will keep staying active; that the mayor and City Council will continue their upbeat tone, avoid the bad habits of the past and keep executing the city's restructuring plan.

There is no guarantee the nation's economy will keep expanding, either. Or that the auto companies will continue making billions in their home market, buoying the economy of the state and its southeast corner.

None of that is certain. That's why evidence that reinvestment is coming from more than just a few CEOs with fat wallets is so important — and so encouraging.

For decades, Detroit's spiral toward insolvency coincided with two things: increasing reliance on dwindling public money and, second, the steady flight of people and private capital from the city.

That trend is reversing, if disproportionately in downtown and Midtown. Private capital drives growth, provides tax-paying jobs and creates demand for more private capital.

With it comes the energy and enthusiasm evident daily on the streets of downtown, in corners of the neighborhoods and in the planned redevelopments steadily revising Detroit's next chapter.


(313) 222-2106

Daniel Howes' column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and can be found at http://detroitnews.com/staff/27151.

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