WSU business school exploring a downtown move

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Wayne State University is considering moving its business school from the Midtown campus to downtown Detroit, possibly partnering with the Ilitch organization or redevelopment impresario Dan Gilbert.

The Ilitches are exploring possibilities of developing a site for WSU’s School of Business Administration in the 45-block district, between Midtown and downtown, that will become their new entertainment and residential district. The Ilitch organization is seeking at least $200 million in new development in what it is calling the District Detroit.

“As longtime neighbors and partners in Detroit’s revitalization, we’re excited to be discussing new opportunities to collaborate with Wayne State in the District Detroit,” said Doug Kuiper, a spokesman for Ilitch Holdings Inc. “We have been proud to support the university over many years, as it is a very important institution in our community. We look forward to publicly sharing additional details as our conversations evolve.”

The 45-block district will include the $450 million arena for the Detroit Red Wings, owned by Mike Ilitch. Mike and his wife Marian co-founded Little Caesars Pizza, which is based downtown. Mike Ilitch also owns the Detroit Tigers. Other Ilitch holdings include the Fox Theatre, located on Woodward downtown.

Last year, Mike and Marian Ilitch gave $8.5 million to Wayne State’s School of Medicine. The gift will create the Ilitch Chair for Surgical Innovation and establish a fund to support research and development in surgical technologies.

Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate Services also had pursued Wayne’s business school, but it’s unclear if those talks continue, sources said. Last year, Bedrock was in talks about offering the business school a prime piece of downtown: the former Hudson’s site on Woodward Avenue. The empty block sits amid a surging downtown, where Bedrock controls more than 70 downtown properties. Bedrock has development rights for the Hudsons’ site.

“We don’t comment on rumors and speculation,” said Robin Schwartz, a Bedrock spokeswoman. Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans Inc., is a graduate of WSU’s Law School. Gilbert’s investment in Detroit totals more than $1.6 billion.

Businesses, especially professional offices and services, have been drawn to the city’s downtown in recent years, due in great part to a redevelopment movement fanned by Compuware and Gilbert’s Quicken Loans and associated companies. Included in his ongoing vision for downtown is a walkable area and a vibrant mix of businesses, activities and people.

Within the School of Business Administration, the possibility of the move is being openly discussed among faculty and students.

“The idea has certainly generated much dialogue,” said Abhijit Biswas, the Kmart endowed chair and professor of marketing at the WSU business school. “It’s been an open secret for some time now. At this point, many of us are interested in learning more specific information, details.”

WSU President M. Roy Wilson has championed the idea since he took office in 2013. He sees Wayne State having a role as a leader and catalyst for economic growth in Detroit.

“It sounds to me like a good idea, especially if President Wilson is supportive,” said John Mogk, a WSU law professor who closely follows city development. He was not aware of the business school talks.

“Most of the new entrepreneurial activity is downtown. It would make it easier for young professionals (downtown) to take graduate work at the business school,” Mogk said. “They would able to walk to the location.”

Twitter: LouisAguilar_DN