Second regional LOCUS Leadership Summit cultivates smart growth deals and introduces new research in Michigan


This week, more than 200 real estate developers and local elected officials convened at the One Woodward Building in downtown Detroit for the first-ever LOCUS Michigan Leadership Summit: Closing the next [Smart Growth] Deal. Attendees represented the private, public, and non-profit sectors, and brought regional perspectives to the table.

The Michigan Summit commenced with an address from event sponsor, HRS Communities, followed by an interactive panel investigating “What Walkable Development Means for your Bottom Line.” The discussion was lead by Smart Growth America President and CEO, Geoff Anderson, and included commentary from Strong Towns President Chuck Marohn, Larson Realty Group President and CEO Eric Larson, and Smart Growth America Vice President Chris Zimmerman.

Larson and Zimmerman’s regional testimony, including examples of triple bottom line development in Detroit and Macon, GA, provided attendees perspective on the importance of people, planet, and profit. “Smart growth is part of an economic opportunity,” Zimmerman emphasized as attendees learned the cost advantages of walkable communities. Marohn concluded the panel noting that triple bottom line developers must prepare for a challenge as “every block is different, every project is different.”

Following the discussion LOCUS President Chris Leinberger unveiled The WalkUp Wake-UP Call: Michgian Metros, a report examining walkable development in seven Michigan metropolitan areas. GWU researcher Partrick Lynch joined Leinberger to detail key report findings. Lynch’s analysis of the most recent real estate cycle suggests that demand for walkable urban environments in Michigan is increasing, with 22 percent of all new income property development occurring in the 2.7 percent of land that is walkable urban. Leinberger noted a large comeback of walkable urban places in Detroit-Ann Arbor, a significant pent-up demand for walk-ups in Michigan, and a “strong correlation between walkable urbanism and GDP per capita.”

“This research will give you a fundamentally different lens on how to build your city,” Leinberger noted as he encouraged attendees to classify places as either “walkable urban” or “drivable suburban.” Joining Leinberger and Lynch for a panel discussion about the findings were City of Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, City of Berkley City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa, Invest Detroit CEO Dave Blaszkiewicz, and CWD Real Estate Managing Partner Sam Cummings.

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Over lunch, Leinberger and LOCUS Director Christopher Coes presented the LOCUS Michigan Leadership Awards. Bernie Glieberman, President of HRS Communities, was named Michigan Developer of the Year for his more than fifty-year career specializing in urban infill development, adaptive property reuse, and housing policy. Pat Gillespie, President of The Gillespie Group, LLC, accepted the Michigan Development Company of the Year award for his firm’s urban renewal work in Lansing and commitment to public leadership and development of walkable real estate.

Attendees spent the afternoon engaged in a breakout session panel investigating “Tactics to Enable Smart Growth Development.” The discussion, lead by NelsonNygaard Principal Karina Ricks and Mosaic Urban Managing Partner Calvin Gladney, prompted developers and elected officials to identify smart growth challenges and actionable solutions.

The Summit concluded with deal-making opportunities including the LOCUS LinkUp: Let’s Make a Deal! Top Development Opportunities in Michigan and the LOCUS Pitch Cocktail Reception. The LOCUS LinkUp featured Flint Director of Planning Megan Hunter (phone: 810-766-7426) and Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson (phone: 231-724-6724) who shared future plans, development ideas, and deal opportunities. Additional developers spoke at the Pitch, highlighting deals in Detroit and greater Michigan.

In the following weeks, LOCUS will be providing resources from the Summit including presentations, photos, and testimonials. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates and resources.