Gilbert, Cottons share city vision
Detroit— The Grosse Pointe family that partnered with billionaire Dan Gilbert to buy and share a landmark downtown building also shares a penchant for spending millions to revive real estate and fight crime.
Neither would say Tuesday whether it means the two influential entities will be closer partners in various efforts such as the Detroit Crime Commission or the Blight Task Force.
"Dan Gilbert and the Cotton family share a history of philanthropy and a deep commitment to Detroit," said Robin Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Gilbert in a Tuesday email.
Gilbert's Bedrock Real Estate Service and Meridian Health, owned by the Cotton family, have agreed to jointly buy the Compuware building on Campus Martius. The purchase is believed to be in the $100 million to $150 million range, according to several commercial real estate analysts.
Starting next spring, members of the Cotton family who are Meridian executives will have offices in the building. Gilbert already keeps his main office in the building.
Meridian, the state's largest Medicaid HMO, already is based downtown but its 400 workers are scattered in various buildings.
The Compuware building is also one of the spaces that houses various entities linked to Gilbert, including Quicken Loans Inc., Bedrock and Rock Ventures. Gilbert is founder and chairman of the Quicken Loans, the nation's second-largest retail home mortgage lender.
Meridian's Jon Cotton said earlier this year the company didn't have "any business reason" to be downtown. "We just want to do our part," Cotton told a group of successful former Detroiters at a conference called Detroit Homecoming. The event was intended to lure some of those people, who had ties to Metro Detroit, back to the city.
Separately, the Cottons and Gilbert fund major initiatives in helping fight crime and dealing with blight.
David Cotton, the head of the family, was specialist-in-chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Detroit Medical Center. In 1997, he and his wife, Shery, founded what eventually became Meridian Health. Their sons, Jon, Sean and Michael, all are executives with Meridian.
Three years ago the Cottons started the private nonprofit Detroit Crime Commission, which is intended to chase the kind of crimes that cash-strapped law enforcement agencies do not have the resources to fully pursue.
For the first two years, the Cottons solely funded the effort at a price of $750,000 annually. Now other private corporations and two local foundations pay for the 11 full-time staff, which is made up of former members of various law enforcement agencies.
The crime commission has busted check fraud rings, provided witness protection and investigated human trafficking and public corruption.
"My dad always wanted to be in the CIA," said Jon Cotton during his presentation at the Detroit Homecoming event this summer.
Gilbert has spent millions in private security downtown, where he has more than 65 properties. His company has installed visible security cameras and has a state-of-the art surveillance room in the Chase building. That monitoring room has been shown to very few media. Last year, local ABC affiliate WXYZ did gain access.
It's a "high tech, multimillion-dollar security control room," according to the report. It has dozens of computer monitors watching Gilbert's properties and also streets and sidewalks surrounding Gilbert's holdings in other states. Of the 1,000 security cameras installed, more than 300 are in Metro Detroit, according to WXYZ.
Both are active in fighting blight. Gilbert was one of the main forces behind the Detroit Blight Task Force, which was a comprehensive survey of every parcel in the city. The blight task force worked nine months developing a 380-page report with specific recommendations how to eliminate vacant properties.
The Cottons have supported legislative efforts to toughen the laws on "scrappers" — thieves who steal various materials from properties.
Sean Cotton, an attorney, and Jon helped launch the Grosse Pointe Housing Foundation in July 2011. It pays up to $350 a month to college students who rent in the lower-end neighborhoods of Grosse Pointe Park.
The rent support shored up an area, nicknamed the "Cabbage Patch," that was plagued by more than 70 vacant or foreclosed properties, city officials said. Now there are fewer than 15.
Through various entities, the Cottons began to buy retail properties on and around Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Park in 2011.
The goal is to revive the retail strip in Grosse Pointe Park and make it more pedestrian-friendly. Earlier this year, that plan sparked controversy when an outbuilding was erected on Kercheval that cut off vehicular traffic at the Detroit border. The two cities are now working on a joint plan for the street.
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