Dan Gilbert makes first public speech since his stroke to enthusiastic Detroit crowd

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dan Gilbert, the billionaire who was a key driver in transforming downtown Detroit in the past decade, made news Friday just by appearing in public for his first speech since a major stroke nine months ago.

The Quicken Loans Inc. founder and Cleveland Cavaliers owner received a hero's welcome from the influential business crowd that packed a MGM Grand Detroit's ballroom.

Dan Gilbert

"Whatever happened in the last 10 years, we're going to double down in the next 10 years, " Gilbert said, referring to Detroit development. Last decade, Gilbert-linked entities bought more than 100 downtown properties, ranging from major skyscrapers to parking garages to key retail buildings on Woodward Avenue. His host of companies are the city's largest employer, with a total of more than 17,000 workers. 

Gilbert's biggest validation Friday came from a fellow billionaire real estate mogul and pro sports team owner: Stephen Ross.  Ross, who attended the Friday event, vowed an "initial gift" of $100 million to launch the construction of the Detroit Center for Innovation, an estimated $750 million downtown mega-project on land donated by Gilbert. The proposed development combines a University of Michigan research and education center focusing on technology; a business incubator; housing; and hotel and conference center.

The site, on the edge of Greektown, is located on the site formerly chosen for the new Wayne County Jail. The project is expected to break ground in 2021.

The estimated crowd of 500 gave Gilbert a standing ovation when he was escorted onto the stage in a wheelchair and slowly rose to stand to the podium. He received an award by Crain’s Detroit Business honoring him as a “Hall of Fame” newsmaker.

His left shoulder visibly sagged and he never used his left arm. His voice was quiet, the pace of speech a bit slow at times, but his words were clear. And at the end of his 23-minute speech, the 58-year-old native Detroiter received another standing round of applause.

Dan Gilbert receives and award from KC Crain, CEO Crain’s, at the Crain’s Newsmaker luncheon held at the MGM Grand Casino.

He emphasized that his companies are doing fine without him because he and others built strong culture and a solid group of executives.

His speech itself was a long list of thanks and touted the progress Detroit has made in the past decade.

In 2010, Gilbert moved the Quicken Loans headquarters from the suburbs to downtown. He quickly then went on a “skyscraper sale." As the decade progressed, his ambitions only grew.

By 2018, the state of Michigan granted his real estate firm the largest tax subsidy ever awarded in Michigan. The $618 million tax subsidy will fuel his plan to construct potentially the tallest building in the city on the empty Hudson’s block on Woodward Avenue; develop 3 acres of mainly vacant space on the Monroe Block; renovate the equivalent of seven football fields of interior space at the long-dormant Book Tower and Building on Washington Boulevard; and add an 11-story annex to the One Campus Martius building. The $95 million expansion of One Campus Martius is expected to be completed in March. The other projects are at various stages in the development process. 

Although Gilbert did not talk about it in his Friday speech, he told Crain's last week that he's focused on finishing the estimated $1 billion development on Woodward where the Hudson's department store was located. Bedrock has not yet announced the anchor tenant for the mixed-use development.

Stephen Ross, owner of Miami Dolphins and New York real estate mogul at the Crain’s Newsmaker luncheon.

Ross is chairman of New York-based Related Cos., which manages more than $50 billion in real estate assets. One of its developments is the $25 billion Hudson Yards in Manhattan. He is also the largest donor to the University of Michigan, his alma mater. In 2017, he gave $50 million to the school for student initiatives. He donated $200 million in 2013, on top of $100 million in 2004 to endow operations for the business school, which was renamed the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Other buildings on the Ann Arbor campus also bear his name.

Ross also owns the Miami Dolphins,

U-M President Mark Schlissel and Mayor Mike Duggan arrive at the Crain’s Newsmaker of the Year luncheon at the MGM Grand Casino.