At the recent Techonomy Conference at Wayne State University, Gilbert hinted he was thinking beyond downtown when he said: “To get the neighborhoods going, we’ve got to take town the 78,000 or so—we don’t even know the exact number of structures that need to be taken down, mostly houses. Once we can get that done, you will have open pieces of land, and you’re going to have, more importantly, hope and optimism.”The announcement came on the heels of an announcement that Detroit officials will receive $300 million in public and private funds:
And Gilbert means demolishing every last abandoned structure. He even discussed erecting a big count-down board to keep score.
“Maybe I’m out of my mind, which I am for various reasons,” he said. "You get these structures down and, I mean, all of them, not most of them, all of them.”
Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr called it an “unprecedented day in the history of Detroit” as he stood with a cadre of local, state and national officials announcing a plan for the city to utilize $300 million in public and private funds.He's not just tearing down abandoned structures, he's helping to rebuild at the same time:
Blight, public safety, transportation and information technology are the key areas where money and energy will be placed, he added.
Gilbert’s play downtown, though, shows he is not the usual Detroit business leader. And, not surprising for someone who owns casinos, he’s a gambler. His Rock Ventures has brought 9,200 employees to Detroit’s central business district in three years and has purchased more than 30 buildings with 7.5 million square feet of office space, which is more than two Packard Plants, speaking of blight.He's rumored to have purchased three other high profile buildings in downtown Detroit as recently as September.
Gilbert is also playing a key role in another project that has vexed leaders for decades: Mass transit. One of his top lieutenants is Matt Cullen, the CEO of the M1 rail line on Woodward Avenue, which is scheduled to break ground in the coming weeks.
The New York Times said Gilbert’s downtown investments “amount to one of the most ambitious privately financed urban reclamation projects in American history.” It added: “If this area turns around, no one will profit quite like Mr. Gilbert, but the risk looks as great as the potential reward.”
Should Gilbert be behind those deals, Capitol Park's future—already bright with the impending renovations of the Griswold Apartments, as well as the Farwell, Capitol Park, and United Way Buildings—just got a whole lot more exciting.It may the dawn of a new day in Detroit.