Smart Growth Stories: Building a solid foundation for the future of Detroit

Detroit is changing. The popular story of the last half-decade has largely revolved around the economic fallout of the troubled automobile industry, interspersed with tales of population drain and abandonment. Based on this narrative, it might be easy to dismiss Detroit, to write the city off as a once-great but now-fallen metropolis of yesterday.

Easy, that is, unless you’ve been following the news. A New York Times article from a year ago picked up on the massive influx of young, educated people even in the face of massive out-migration, while a Forbes article from July of this year highlighted the development in downtown Detroit, largely centered around Woodward Avenue, the spine of the downtown area.

These news stories are beginning to touch upon what people familiar with the new movement in Detroit already know: Detroit is rebuilding. But this time, developers and investors are taking a different tack, focusing on downtown, mixed-use, and transit-oriented development strategies, shifting the city away from the large manufacturing development that has characterized Detroit for so long.

Bedrock Real Estate is at the forefront of this new strategy. “We’re going to continue to fill up Detroit, downtown Detroit. There’s no longer this need for manufacturing plants. You don’t need these big, huge buildings anymore,” says Jim Ketai, Managing Partner of Bedrock and member of the Steering Committee for LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors. “So we are recreating Detroit. It’ll be a new Detroit, something different than what Detroit once was.”

Bedrock is committed to continuing the positive change in Detroit, while maintaining the city’s distinct character. Ketai explains that making Detroit a great place is about more than just new buildings. “Detroit has a beautiful historic skyline. The buildings have a lot of history and they’re great looking buildings,” he says, “and so we are doing everything to maintain that quality of the history of Detroit.”

Ketai also understands the importance of a strong urban core in bringing people back to Detroit and the crucial role that economic vibrancy has in creating a thriving city. By taking on the task of restoring the built environment, Bedrock is helping to restore faith in Detroit’s future.

One of Bedrock’s most high-profile developments, The M@dison, is a great example of the company’s vision. The mixed-use development has over 50,000 square feet of rentable space for presentations and events, along with retail space on the first floor. “Any building that we’re involved with will have first floor retail,” says Ketai, “and we do this because we know that you have to create that ground-floor energy, and by having the retail on the first floor, people are going to be walking to their offices and to their homes back and forth and creating what every urban center needs, which is that vibrancy.”

Part of the business of making an energetic and attractive downtown is attracting the right kinds of people, as well. “Young professionals want to be in these environments, these urban environments,” Ketai says, “so if we can create more things to attract these young people to stay in Detroit or move to Detroit, that in turn is going to help the businesses.” By investing in the kinds of amenities these young professionals want, like downtown apartments, local businesses, and even the M1 Light Rail Line, Bedrock is on the cutting edge of bringing back Detroit.

What is perhaps most remarkable, however, is just how effective these efforts have been. In August of this year, for example, rental occupancy rates in downtown Detroit reached 97%, illustrating the remarkable demand for downtown living and a promising sign for the future of the city.

“Every person that has moved down there that I have encountered has given positive feedback, so to me, that says a lot,” Ketai says. “I encourage everyone to come to Detroit and be a part of what’s going on there, because it’s really something to see.”

Local Leaders Council LOCUS