Detroit philanthropists tout investments in city
There’s room for investments as Detroit rebuilds, philanthropists and moguls told a group of former residents Thursday.
Reinvesting in Detroit as well as overhauling its image — that was the focus of a gathering Thursday for the fourth Detroit Homecoming, a three-day event designed to convince expatriates to return and invest in the area.
Since its launch in 2014, more than $300 million has been invested in city projects and businesses, coordinators said.
Such efforts, coupled with ongoing redevelopment, help position Detroit for growth that outsiders thought was impossible a few years ago, said Stephen Ross, a philanthropist and renowned real estate investor.
“Now it has the ability to attract outside developers, outside capital,” said Ross, a University of Michigan alum and Wayne State University Law School graduate. “Today there is so much excitement and energy.”
The Homecoming event, put on by Crain's Detroit Business, coincided with a report by the publication that Ross would be partnering with development company The Platform and the Ford Foundation to invest $27.5 million in housing for Detroit's neighborhoods.
The project will target Islandview, Brightmoor/Old Redford, Live6, New Center, TechTown, Milwaukee Junction, North End, Eastern Market and Riverfront neighborhoods, according to Crain's.
"It is gratifying that a developer of the stature of Mr. Ross and an institution as esteemed as the Ford Foundation have decided to partner with us," Platform officials said in a statement. "Their support and that of our existing investors assure that our growing Detroit pipeline will be well capitalized."
Ross mentioned the investment during his appearance Thursday but did not share details. The investor told the audience his aim for the move was simple. "I believe in Detroit," he said.
Thursday’s forum at the Detroit Institute of Arts Film Theatre was hosted by Dan Gilbert, chairman and founder of Quicken Loans.
The billionaire, a majority owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, has been viewed as a key player in helping revitalize the Motor City. He started moving his companies to Detroit in 2010, investing more than $2.2 billion to buy and renovate nearly 100 commercial properties.
This week, his Bedrock Detroit shared more details for the redesign of the J.L. Hudson site project. The 1 million-square-foot mixed use development on the site of the former department store is slated to cost $900 million and includes plans for an 800-foot tower, which would be the tallest downtown.
In February, Microsoft Corp. announced it planned to open a downtown Detroit office next year in the One Campus Martius building, which Gilbert’s Bedrock Detroit development company oversees.
Gilbert and Ross last year each donated $5 million to the Wayne State Law School — representing the largest donation in its history, officials said at the time.
Introducing Gilbert before the talk show-like forum on Thursday, Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon described the businessman as “someone who can take vision and move it into action at lightning speed.”
Ross later praised him as an example of a visionary helping push Detroit forward.
“You’ve set the standard, you’ve set the pace,” said Ross, the chairman and founder of Related Companies and Time Warner Center in New York City, who also owns the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins and Sun Life Stadium.
Ross and Gilbert spoke alongside Michigan expat Draymond Green, a Golden State Warriors player and former Michigan State University star.
The athlete told Gilbert that he was pursuing a business, Blink Fitness.
“We’re working on bringing it here to Detroit, which I think would be great,” Green said.
The basketball star’s $3.1 million gift to MSU in 2015 was slated to go to its basketball program as well as a donation from the Athletic Department for a Breslin Center upgrade.
“That feeling, I’ve never felt that feeling in my life,” he said. “I have never been so happy to give away money in my life.”
When Gilbert asked Green about the newly opened Little Caesars Arena, the sports figure praised it as proof of Detroit’s revival.
“I think it’s going to help boost the morale of the city,” he said.