Detroiters to Atlantic City: Too bad for you

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

It didn't take long for Detroiters to come out swinging at Atlantic City's mayor after he took a swipe at the Motor City during his annual city address on the East Coast.

Mayor Don Guardian had been describing his city's issues in his State of the City speech, including that Atlantic City lost four of its 12 casinos last year, saw 8,000 jobs eliminated and has lost nearly half its gambling revenue in the past eight years.

But, and here's where Detroiters took issue: "At least we are not Detroit."

Now they have a message of their own for him: You could learn from us.

"I would love for the mayor of Atlantic City to come to Detroit," said Jeanette Pierce, executive director of the Detroit Experience Factory, which works to promote the city. "We'll show him some of the things we've been working on. Maybe Atlantic City could learn from some of the solutions that we've been coming up with to solve our problems."

Like emerging from bankruptcy and the city's push to revive core areas.

"We should probably try to educate the mayor of Atlantic City as to what is truly going on in the city of Detroit," said Bill Bohde, senior vice president of sales and marketing with the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.

He pointed to the upgraded Cobo Center downtown, where organizers visited Thursday while planning for the American Society of Association Executives' annual convention there in August. It's the first time the event — expected to draw between 5,000 and 6,000 people — is in the city, Bohde said.

"We never had an opportunity to host it before because we didn't have enough hotel rooms until after 2008 and Cobo was not in good enough condition," he said, adding that with renovations nearly complete, group officials are "thrilled to death with what we're going to present them."

For professionals such as Austin Black II who work in the city, observations from outsiders without ties are just rude.

"The comments are more of an indictment of him than they are of Detroit," said Black, president and broker of City Living Detroit, a residential brokerage firm.

Black said more companies are investing in a city with improved goods and services. "In a lot of the stable and desirable neighborhoods, the issue is not having enough properties to meet the demands to live in those areas. Now that demand is also bringing in restaurants, bars, retailers."

Among those with faith in the city is Tim Smith, CEO and president of Skidmore Studio, which focuses on design and illustration. The office had once been in Detroit but migrated to the suburbs by the 1970s, he said.

Smith moved it back to Detroit in 2011 and later relocated his family there. His staff has since nearly doubled, and potential employees across the country send in resumes, which shows the city is a destination.

"It's absolutely on the way to recovery," he said. "There is a lot of interest. … You think about business, retail and residential, each of those areas are growing."

And for nonresidents who say otherwise?

"When people take potshots at the city, they're not dealing with the facts of today and what's going on," Smith said. "We all know we have a lot of room to grow, but we also recognize there's a tremendous amount of positive energy. People who are here are seeing it. We have to stop worrying about what other people are saying and doing what we're doing ...

"We're a maker city. We're finding our confidence again. In that environment, the people who are in Detroit are making it work."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.