Gilbert: 'We are taking our time' on Hudson's site

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert speaks with Dennis Archer Jr., CEO of Ignition Media Group, at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Detroit Policy Conference.

Detroit — Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert said Detroiters shouldn't worry that a tower has not started to rise at the former Hudson's site.

"We are taking our time," the billionaire businessman said Thursday at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Detroit Policy Conference. "We sit around the table sometimes and say, remember, this is a 70-year decision. Let's not worry about a two weeks difference if it's a 70-year decision. We've got to get it right."

It has been more than a year since construction on the Woodward Avenue block downtown began for the $1 billion, 1.4 million-square-foot mixed-use development that is expected to be the tallest building in Michigan around 912 feet. Construction continues on the foundation and underground utilities, Gilbert said.

"I think when it's done," he said during his on-stage discussion with Dennis Archer Jr., the conference's chairman, "it'll give Detroit the confidence once we are done that we can create new and really build and develop."

Whitney Eichinger, spokeswoman for Gilbert's real estate firm Bedrock LLC, said the current completion date for the Hudson's development is 2022. The company in August said construction was on schedule, though since then it changed its design plans and began considering increasing the building's height from 800 feet.

Gilbert teased future announcements for what will be in the development, including some "high-profile tenants." He also said with a jam-packed schedule at Cobo Center, which is to be renamed by Chemical Bank, the new buildings will provide space for conferences and meetings for around 100 people.

Sid Roth, a real estate broker and agent at Michigan Metropolitan Realtors, said hearing about such projects are exciting.

"I know there's a need for meeting space in the city," Roth said. "I think the development will definitely help."

While development is one front that has brought in more businesses and jobs to Detroit, Gilbert said education needs to be next.

"It's the bullseye issue, the most important issue," he said. "Education, I think, is coming out of the gate. There are miles and miles to go, probably beyond miles. That’s the last one that we really need. It’s not where it needs to be."

The Quicken Loans Community Fund is working with Detroit Public Schools. Last year, it made a commitment to bring a computer science curriculum for every elementary school in the city by 2021 and gradually expand it to all Detroit schools. It also pledged $1 million to the Breithaupt Career and Technical School on Detroit's west side for expanding career training. The fund also provided $500,000 for hydration stations for drinking water.

"We looked at where we could best put our resources," said Laura Granneman, vice president of strategic investments for the community fund. "We are not educators, and we are not trying to be educators. We want to create a support system ... and be a supporter of career development."

After speaking with a group of teenagers in a Detroit neighborhood a couple years ago who had never visited downtown, Gilbert said Quicken Loans began bringing sixth-grade students there for the day. The company also has a mentorship program.

"We're having kids who live right in Detroit here know what's going on here and know they can be a part of this and stay in school, get their education, do the right things," Gilbert said. "We're here. The whole business community, we're right here."

Patti Swanson, vice president and chief of marketing at Walsh College, said she was glad Gilbert addressed the issue: "He's done so much for the city, but he still knows where the challenges are."

Christine Herring, division director for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children with the state of Michigan, said she would like to see Gilbert further invest in Detroit's education system and schools.

"He probably should," she said. "We could use all the help we can get. He has the building space and the social capital network to pull it off."

Bedrock owns around 90 properties in downtown. Although Lauren Hood, a consultant and Leadership Detroit alumna, said she worries that much control could exclude certain people and tenants, she said it could be beneficial for Gilbert to invest more in education.

"I'd like to see him expand his advisory committee before that happens," Hood said, "get some people who are on the ground."