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October 10, 2013 - Image 25

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-10-10

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

The 78,000 abandoned buildings that
Gilbert cited comes from Orr's Proposal
for Creditors, released in June. Gilbert is
also correct in saying no one really knows
how many there are.
In 1989, several crews organized by
the Free Press counted all the city's aban-
doned buildings and came up with a total
of 15,215. That seemed like a stunning
figure at the time, though blight then was
nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is today.
Dealing with blight is also a bureaucrat-
ic nightmare. The average cost to demol-
ish a house is $8,500, Orr's report said.
Addressing blight requires coordinating
with several state, county and city agen-
cies, and blight removal is governed by
multiple codes and a number of overlap-
ping jurisdictions. Then there's the messy
business of sorting out the ownership of
the building.
Such a daunting project is not the kind
of thing Detroit's top business leaders
normally get involved in. The goal of their
projects usually is something vague and
unquantifiable, such as improving race
relations, or something traditional, like
raising money for charity.
After the 1967 riot, for example, depart-
ment store magnate Joseph L. Hudson
Jr. accepted a request from the governor
and mayor to head New Detroit, but the
original purpose was not defined, other
than to make things better after four
days of insurrection. A few years later,
Henry Ford II organized financing for the
Renaissance Center.
But constructing a building, even one as
big as the RenCen, pales beside eliminat-
ing all of Detroit's abandonment.
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 employ-
ees 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.
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
Ml rail line on Woodward Avenue, which
is scheduled to break ground in the com-
ing 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"
The two other people on the task force
with Gilbert are Glenda Price, president
of Detroit Public Schools Foundation,
and Linda Smith, executive director of
U-Snap-Bac, an East Side nonprofit.
On Sept 27, the Obama administra-
tion announced Detroit is to receive $150
million to fight blight and spur redevelop-

ment by funding demolition of homes
and commercial buildings and the Detroit
Land Bank to help manage derelict prop-
erty and support affordable housing.
If Gilbert, Roberts and their team meet
with success, it essentially will create
a new city, and one that would be ripe
for the sustainable metropolis of swales,
ponds and green neighborhoods set out
earlier this year in the Detroit Future City
plan.
Gilbert is no fan of urban farming,
though. When he envisions land cleared
of blight, he sees developers rushing in to
build anew.
At the Techonomy conference, he said:
"When that blight is gone, maybe we
don't have to be talking about shrinking
cities because it will be such a rush of peo-
ple who want to get into low-value hous-
ing — when all the utilities are there and
the land is pretty much close to free— not
exactly free, but close to it — and all the
utilities are there, it becomes very cheap
for a builder/developer to develop a resi-
dential unit, and they are going to develop
them and develop them in mass as soon
as we get the structures down and maybe
we don't have to worry about raising peas
or corn or whatever it is you do in the
farm"
Let the countdown begin.

AUTHENTIC CHINESE CUISINE



This story was reprinted with permission from
www.deadlinedetroit.com .

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October 10 • 2013

25

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