Ken Cockrel has stepped out of his role as Detroit City Council member and into a new role as executive director of the Detroit Future City Implementation Office. Detroit Future City is an initiative to implement creative ideas to transform the city in a coordinated way through a well-researched strategic framework. Launched in early 2013, DFC has 36 pilot projects underway to address neighborhood stabilization, create new “green” infrastructure from underutilized land, and remove blighted structures by “deconstruction” rather than demolition.
“Detroit is at a pivotal moment in its history and the Detroit Future City Strategic Framework presents us with an exciting opportunity to rethink, reshape and rebuild our city,” said Cockrel. “I am honored to be able to continue serving the residents and neighborhoods of Detroit as we work with our partners to improve the quality of life in Detroit by carrying-out the recommendations of the Strategic Framework.”
With his experience as Council President and Mayor, Cockrel is uniquely qualified to work with all the stakeholders and collaborators that are using Detroit Future City to inform their efforts to revitalize Detroit.
As Cockrel takes on his new responsibilities leading the Implementation Office, Dan Kinkead will serve as Director of Projects; Heidi Alcock will serve as Director of Operations; and Carrie Lewand-Monroe will serve as Director of Policy. The Office has several dozen potential projects in planning stages aside from those already in progress. It also seated a steering committee of community, business, government, non-profit and foundation stakeholders to guide its work. Detroit Economic Growth Association remains the fiduciary for the Office, administering foundation support for its work.
2013 was a remarkable year for economic development in the city of Detroit — all the more remarkable because municipal government filed for bankruptcy in July. Developments in federal court, however, did not stop important progress on DEGC projects that demonstrate strength in a number of important areas: a vibrant Downtown, rebounding retail development, saving and adding manufacturing jobs, revitalized neighborhood businesses, and implementation of a broad strategic framework for future development. Here are a few examples.
General Motors is investing $105 million to upgrade its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant that builds Chevy Volts and Malibus. The French automotive supplier Faurecia has invested in the joint venture firm, Detroit Manufacturing Systems, which operates a plant in the Gateway Industrial Center. New Center Stamping is adding jobs as it installs a high-efficiency production line. Sakthi Automotive and Hyundai Mobis are manufacturing automotive components under the same roof in Southwest Detroit. These developments demonstrate that Detroit still has the talent and infrastructure for advanced manufacturing; it also shows the city’s attractiveness to investments from overseas.
Rivertown Phase One is a $55 million dollar mixed use development of 300 apartments and retail storefronts next to the Detroit RiverWalk, Dequindre Greenway and Milliken State Park. It is the first major residential project that specifically takes advantage of those recreational attractions. In doing so, it embodies the vision of the East Riverfront master plan.
Yes, there are excellent choices for grocery shopping in the city. Meijer opened its first ever store in Detroit at Gateway Marketplace, a $62 million shopping center on Detroit’s northern boundary. Whole Foods Market opened its first Detroit store in Midtown, and a number of Detroit’s strong independent grocers have invested in major store improvements. These represent important new choices for Detroit grocery shoppers, especially because they are taking places in neighborhoods around the city. There is still significant work to be done, but 2013 was a huge leap forward.
The re-awakening of the Avenue of Fashion along Livernois is well underway thanks to a strong collaboration from community partners, anchor institutions, and a mix of funding support from local and state government and foundations. As permanent and pop-up businesses are opening and artists are creating unique installations, a strong sense of place is returning to this iconic district. And it’s another sign of redevelopment beyond Downtown.
Bicycling and Walking
Biking, running and walking have become hugely popular in Detroit, and DEGC is supporting that trend as a part of a City-led collaboration that is investing $23 million to create designated bike routes crisscrossing Detroit. As part of that project, construction has already begun on a northern extension of the Dequindre Cut Greenway that will connect it to Eastern Market at Wilkins St.
The Arena District
Much more than a big box for hockey, the $650 million of private and public investment in this key part of Downtown will generate a truly unique urban sports, entertainment, residential, retail and office district. The location within a walkable distance to Comerica Park, Ford Field, Masonic Temple Theater, the Fox Theatre, Michigan Opera Theater, Music Hall, The Fillmore and Gem Theater ensures that the district will be lively 365 days a year.
Each of these represents a significant milestone in its own right. Put them together and it is easy to see how far we have come, and how quickly we are moving ahead. As the pace accelerates, it is good that we have a solid planning framework in place in Detroit Future City. As Ken Cockrel joins the leadership team for the DFC Implementation Office (noted in this newsletter), we are in a strong position for a terrific 2014.
I-375 — a major gateway to Downtown Detroit is coming due for major repairs soon, so the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Detroit Downtown Development Authority (DDA) are asking the question, “Does the current configuration of I-375 really serve the needs of Detroit today – and into the foreseeable future?”
The opportunity to reconfigure I-375 comes at a time of substantial investments and anticipated development in the central business and waterfront districts, and coincides with the anticipated need for substantial repairs on the bridges over I-375 and other maintenance work in the near future.
The DDA has approved a planning contract with Parsons Brinckerhoff Michigan, Inc. to develop a set of alternatives to the I-375 corridor that connects I-75 to Downtown Detroit.
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and other sources are paying for the $373,000 study, which will require traffic studies, stakeholder input, and developing concepts for five alternatives to the current configuration of I-375 from its intersection with Gratiot Ave. to Atwater St. Parsons Brinckerhoff is also expected to deliver an analysis of each option, including an economic analysis, traffic and environmental impact study and an assessment of the public spaces created by each option.
This was the perfect time to step back and take a look at how this important gateway to Downtown should be developed to serve a revitalized Downtown and East Riverfront. The DDA and MDOT have no pre-conceived ideas about what I-375 should be, just a recognition that whatever we do will have important economic development consequences for decades to come.
Parsons Brinckerhoff is expected to spend the first month conducting research and gathering input from surrounding property owners, community representatives and other stakeholders. The schedule anticipates Parsons Brinckerhoff will present the client group’s preferred alternative no later than July 2014.
Ed Tatem, Michigan President of Parsons Brinckerhoff says, “We are very excited to be responsible for studying traffic, gathering input from all stakeholders — including commuters — and presenting fresh ideas for this significant project.”
Kelby Wallace, MDOT Project Manager says, “The potential to transform this corridor will need to fit the future vision of the city, that is why the study is engaging numerous partners and investigating all options.”
Download additional background information and a PDF map of the I-375 study area in DEGC’s reference library.
The Russian mayors have come and gone. The Chinese executives did the same. The contingent from Portland was very engaged. The columnists and bloggers from Chicago, London and elsewhere all found surprises. The New York Times seems to be “discovering” something interesting, tasty or cool in Detroit every few weeks. Time magazine explored the city for an entire year. In short, the world is making its way to Detroit, and it’s not because of some calamity or scandal, or even a big event such as a Super Bowl or International Auto Show. We are on a world stage right now because of hundreds of stories, successes and interesting people that all add up to a world-class transformation.
We’ve known that for quite awhile, because we are supporting it every way we can, but there is something satisfying about spending time hearing the interest from the Russian mayors, who were here because they represent one-industry cities that need to diversify their economies. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? While we talked with the Russians, Japanese public television was videotaping a story about W Industries, a company that successfully grew from auto supplier to advanced manufacturer in alternative energy, natural gas extraction, defense and aerospace.
The Chinese were here to consider business investments. They realize that Detroit is in the center of the greatest concentration of automotive research and development in the world. The constant re-invention of personal transportation is going on right around us every day.
Time magazine, of course wanted to witness bold moves from major players like Mayor Dave Bing and Quicken chairman, Dan Gilbert, but reporters from Time or its sister publications also covered entrepreneurial successes in our incubators, NextEnergy and Wayne State University’s TechTown. And they wrote about Detroit’s cheerleaders such as Slow’s Bar BQ’s Phil Cooley, City Living Detroit real estate broker Austin Black or I Am Young Detroit’s Mike Han.
As we are breaking new ground, we are also on the lookout for what we might learn from others. That’s why we have a delegate in Turin, Italy this month, reviewing the economic progress of the home city to Fiat.
The best news from all this buzz is that it is not too late to get into the game. We know of properties ripe for renovation or redevelopment, and we know the ways to support growth for startups or global companies. We have success stories, and if you are growing a business in Detroit we’d like to know yours. After all, the world is watching.
George W. Jackson
Jackson is president and CEO of Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, a non-profit organization that works with businesses, government and other organizations throughout Detroit to encourage and manage economic development projects.