Douglass Diggs, former Detroit planning director, dies at 55

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
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Douglass Diggs most recently lead Diggs Group Heritage.

Whether securing development deals, supporting budding entrepreneurs or forging bonds with local leaders, Douglass Diggs was one of Detroit’s proudest boosters.

“He was super-dedicated to the city,” said political consultant Steve Hood, a friend since childhood. “It was ingrained in him since he was a little boy: making Detroit better.”

Mr. Diggs, a longtime businessman, real estate developer and former city official, died Friday, May 17, 2019, from complications after suffering a massive stroke, his family said. He was 55.

The Detroit native was the city's director of planning and development in the 2000s, overseeing a multimillion-dollar budget and real estate, according to an online biography. 

Before that, Mr. Diggs was director of community and economic development for the nonprofit Detroit Renaissance, where he helped launch the Detroit Community Loan Fund aimed at financing small minority businesses.

"One of the things that drives the economy in a city is small businesses, particularly in a minority city," he told The Detroit News in 2001. "We want to cut down the barriers to capital ... and serve as a catalyst."

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said she was "deeply saddened" by Diggs' death and lent her support to his wife and kids.

"Douglass was a tremendous family man who made every person in Detroit feel like they were part of his family," Whitmer said in a statement. "His work continues to be a positive force of change for the city, and his legacy will be felt for a long time."

Crain’s Detroit Business cited that effort when naming him among the “40 under 40” for 2002.

Mr. Diggs later led a coalition of business groups to seek a federal grant to launch a minority business development center, associates said. 

In recent years, he was president and CEO of Diggs Group Heritage, which provides economic development consulting.

The firm has negotiated more than $760 million in development agreements, representatives reported Friday.

Recently, Mr. Diggs was responsible for creating and implementing a business and workforce participation and outreach plan for the Little Caesars Arena and District Detroit to ensure local involvement, according to his company.

“All his projects were trying to rebuild the city,” Hood said.

Mr. Diggs, who was born in Detroit in 1964, linked his work ethic to lessons imparted by his prominent parents: Anna Diggs Taylor, the state’s first African-American female federal judge, and Charles C. Diggs Jr., who became the first African-American elected to Congress from Michigan.

“They were all about civic engagement,” Hood said. “They didn’t just talk it.”

Mr. Diggs graduated from University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Wayne State University as well as earned a master’s in business administration from Davenport University, according to his biography.

He earned a mortuary degree and worked in the funeral home industry before turning to real estate, Hood said.

Beyond his professional achievements, Mr. Diggs served groups including the Democratic Municipal Officials, National Business League, the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., University Liggett School and the Parade Company.

Mr. Diggs was also passionate about helping and inspiring youth, Hood said. “He was a great guy — giving, loving, kind heart.”

Survivors include his wife, Dr. Shauna Ryder Diggs; daughters Jacqueline Exyie Diggs and Alexandra Anna Diggs; a sister, Carla Diggs Smith; and stepfather S. Martin Taylor.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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