A few years ago, when Detroit’s recovery was still struggling to take hold, I asked Peter Cummings about the prospects of an investment in the city.
He said then that putting money into a Detroit development was 50 percent altruism. Plant the same cash in Florida, he said, and the returns would come faster and greater.
I asked the developer and philanthropist the same question last week and got a much different answer. While the risks are still greater here, he said, “Detroit is a really hot investment opportunity, and getting better.”
That’s not just boosterism. Cummings is backing his claim with his money.
Cummings, son-in-law of the late billionaire Max M. Fisher, will announce Monday the formation of a new development company, The Platform, that will invest $250 million to create 1,000 new apartments in Midtown, TechTown and New Center.
The partnership with Dietrich Knoer, who quit as chief investment officer of Southfield-based Redico to form the company, aims to take advantage of the QLine, the Woodward Avenue street car that will open next year from downtown to New Center.
All of the housing units will be within walking distance of the tracks. Cummings plans a mixture of rehabs and new construction. There will also be roughly 150,000 square feet of commercial space.
The Platform will start with five buildings. The first two are the iconic Fisher and Kahn buildings in New Center, which Cummings and his partners bought at auction last year for $12.2 million.
The Fisher, with its golden dome and theater, is one of Detroit’s best known skyscrapers. The nearby Kahn was designed by famed architect Albert Kahn. Cummings has also gained control of a building owned by Wayne State University. The other two properties haven’t been identified.
Sensitive to concerns that Detroit’s neighborhoods are being neglected by investors enamored with the central city, Cummings says a second focus of The Platform is to help revive targeted commercial strips in the community. He’s selected three to start.
The Platform will help rebuild the devastated Brightmoor neighborhood. It will join strong efforts already underway to transform the area around the University of Detroit-Mercy. And it will engage in West English Village and Island View neighborhoods across from Belle Isle.
“We envision a village approach,” Cummings says. “We hope to help create centers around which the neighborhood can grow.”
A third piece of his vision is to develop developers — he’ll employ and train young people who will be the next generation of Detroit investors.
Cummings’ investment is affirmation that the QLine will be more than a People Mover-style toy. He believes it will fulfill its mission of connecting New Center, Midtown and downtown in a contiguous avenue of commercial and residential developments.
To get there, though, Detroit should have a stronger plan for the strip — already parking lots are being paved on prime properties to serve downtown commuters. If that expands, it will shortchange the potential of Midtown and New Center.
The Platform also hopes to provide an entry point for institutional investors and wealthy individuals who want a piece of the Detroit excitement, but can’t figure out how to nudge into a downtown landscape dominated by Dan Gilbert and the Ilitch family.
Cummings is well established as a Detroit developer. He did the Whole Foods Market in Midtown, which has doubled revenue projections, and the lofts across from the Max M. Fisher Music Center.
If he and Knoer with The Platform can do in New Center what Dan Gilbert and Mike Ilitch are doing downtown, it will strengthen the second front in the fight to revive the city’s core. And the neighborhoods get a cut of the action.
Nolan Finley’s “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice” is available from Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.