Detroit Center for Innovation to be built in Ilitch-owned District Detroit

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — Pandemic-induced delays are among the reasons developers chose a new location for the $250 million Detroit Innovation Center, revealed Monday to be within the Ilitch-owned District Detroit.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said during a press announcement Monday that the research and education center, a collaboration among real estate billionaire Stephen Ross’s Related Companies, Olympia Development of Michigan and the University of Michigan, will be in an ideal location along Grand River.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says the property where the innovation center will be built is "the perfect site" for the $250 million project.

“I’m not crazy about the delay, but I think it actually ended up in the perfect site for the future of the city,” Duggan said Monday. He was joined by other officials involved in the project including Ross, Ilitch Holdings Inc. president and CEO Christopher Ilitch, and UM President Mark Schlissel.

The center, first announced in 2019, was previously planned for the site of the failed Wayne County Jail project on Gratiot through a partnership with Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock. 

“Dan Gilbert, who we owe an enormous debt of gratitude, that original site we started on, Dan was going to donate five or six acres in the middle of a 14-acre development site which was going to be very complicated under any circumstance, but as it got delayed we were holding up the development of the entire site,” Duggan said. “Bedrock was great. They said, ‘We’ll stick with you, if we have a definitive timeline.’

"Stephen, I think, looked at this and said, ‘I can’t give them a quick promise. Let’s look at other sites.'  And once the Ilitch family came forward and said we’d be willing to do this, we looked at where it was," the mayor said. "I think that everybody, I believe, is in agreement this is the ideal site.”

The campus will consist of three buildings and span 200,000 square feet. It will be constructed on a four-acre surface parking area between Cass and Grand River and between W. Columbia and Elizabeth streets, officials said.

Proposed site of the new Detroit Center for Innovation at the corner of W. Elizabeth Street, Grand River Avenue and Cass Avenue, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021.

Construction is expected to begin in 2023.

In a statement Monday, Jay Farner, CEO of Rocket Companies and Rock Ventures, called the announcement "yet another win for the City of Detroit" that would fit well with Gilbert's previously announced plans for an innovation district on the Gratiot site. Farner thanked Ilitch, Ross and Duggan for their contributions to the city. 

"More than 12 years ago, Dan Gilbert and the Rock Family of Companies made a commitment to invest in Detroit’s future, and days like today — when others help advance that mission — are very special," he said. "The Detroit Center for Innovation will nicely complement the plans we have for an inclusive innovation district at our Gratiot site. Our vision of merging world-class businesses with opportunities for Detroiters to participate in the city’s success will be a true game-changer."

Farner did not provide a status for the project Monday.

The location of the Detroit Center for Innovation within the Ilitch family’s entertainment and sports district, officials say, “ensures that it will have the maximum positive economic and social impact on the people of Detroit, while propelling city-, region-, and statewide job creation and inclusive economic growth.”

About 1,000 students at any given time will be served by the center, primarily through graduate-level coursework, said Schlissel. A building will be constructed for that facility.

A technology incubator will open in a former Loyal Order of the Moose Lodge building at 2115 Cass Ave. that will be restored. A third building will be constructed to provide 300 units of housing on Cass.

The project will be constructed without tax incentives from Detroit, said City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield.

"I think that this is proof that it is possible with desire, with will, with vision and with means all intersecting together," she said. "I look forward to working with all parties involved to ensure that equity, access and opportunity related to the Detroit Center for Innovation and future development is achieved — and that inclusion is embedded throughout the process."

Ross, a native Detroiter, contributed $100 million toward the effort while the Ilitch organization is providing the land. 

Related Companies Chairman Stephen Ross saluted the Ilitch family for providing the land for the Detroit Center for Innovation. Construction of the three-building campus on four acres is expected to begin in 2023.

“The foresight they had to assemble this land and the fact too that you could ultimately build a community that would feature a live, work, play environment by bringing people here and having an innovation center," he said. "That was catalyst for all of that and something I thought was very important. I really salute Chris for having that foresight to assemble the land where you’re not displacing anybody and building what will truly be one of the great communities and bring people back to Detroit.”

Ross said he expects the project to have a bigger impact than he previously expected when the center was first announced two years ago, and Ilitch said he expects significant results as well. 

“The Detroit Center for Innovation will increase access to opportunity for Detroiters, help nurture and retain talent, and drive positive social and economic impacts throughout the city, region, and state,” Ilitch said. “We look forward to working with Stephen Ross and Related Companies — leaders in creating visionary neighborhoods, in developing affordable housing, and in creating unique places across the country — along with the University of Michigan to support the growth of the DCI.”

A rendering of the Detroit Center for Innovation.

In late 2019, Ross and Dan Gilbert's Bedrock had announced a $300 million plan to build the center on the site of the failed Wayne County Jail project, with Ross committing $100 million for the center. But five months ago, Ross said he would not develop the center there and would find another location in Detroit.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN