Dan Gilbert does not need an introduction as far as Detroit is concerned. He is the catalyst for the city’s economic resurgence, and some people are calling him the redeemer of the city. Gilbert is the founder and chairman of Rock Ventures, which is an umbrella entity that includes Quicken Loans and many other properties. He has made a strong impact in the region in an amazingly short time. In August 2010, he moved Quicken Loans’ headquarters from the suburbs to downtown and since then he has established himself as the city’s real CEO. He now owns or controls more than 70 downtown properties covering nearly 12.5 million square feet of real estate and has shifted more than 12,000 employees into the city.
When General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy in the year 2009, 48 of Detroit’s largest commercial buildings were vacant. Today 31 are occupied, undergoing restoration or lined up for redevelopment. Employment in the city is also rising. In 2010, an estimated 78,000 people worked downtown. Today the number has gone up to 85,000 and it is expected to grow to 100,000 by 2016 – thanks mainly to Gilbert.
Gilbert has taken on king-size roles as the city’sforemost developer, booster, andnow also as security officer as he has taken it upon himself to deal with safety concerns by installing a high-tech surveillance system in Detroit. He is hiring new businesses and is keen onbuilding spaces that draw foot traffic in downtown and midtown districts. In his latest moves he intends to come up with hundreds of residential buildings in the Brush Park district and to create his mega-high-speed internet service named‘Rocket Fiber downtown’.With his private investment of more than $1.5 billion, Gilbert has been one of the most compelling forces behind a growing downtown Detroit revival. He says he is just beginning with his long-term investment in Detroit and sees ‘a massive upside’.
All of Gilbert’s efforts are geared towards making Detroit as America’s smartest urban investment. He is relying on his wealth and associations to create a bunch of commercialbusinesses that will attract other start-ups away from New York, Chicago, and Silicon Valley. He constantly promotes the city in various discussions and in the media. He encourages his vendors to move downtown as he believes that by being downtown and in one location, other businesses will come up.
In 2013, Gilbert financed anoutline for downtown named‘Place-making Vision for Downtown Detroit’. It summarized sixdistricts that would be redesigned using ‘place-making’, a model that involves improving a community’s capability to invite and retain businesses and workers. The districts are Woodward Avenue, Lower Woodward, Capitol Park, Grand Circus Park, the Library District, and Campus Martius/Cadillac Square/Monroe.
In just five years, downtown Detroit looks to be evolvinginto a very smart investment and the charm of Detroit is that Gilbert can do everything all at once. He buys low-cost, attractive old buildings and transforms them into offices for its tenants, technology startups, and Quicken Loans employees. At street level, he brings in retailers like sneaker store, yoga studio, and a salad place. On the street itself, he promotesan ice rink in winter and public basketball courts in summer. He explains that it is all about connectivity, not just technical connectivity, but geographic connectivity as well, and that is what makes a city vibrant.
Gilbert’s estimated net worth was $1.9 billion in 2013, which went up to $4.2 billion last September. Among a host of other assets, he is a majority owner of the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers, and operates casinos in four U.S. cities. He is widely viewed as an intelligent anda good businessman, unlike other local industrialists who have purchased properties only to let them sit idle or demolish them for flat parking lots. Mayor Mike Duggan praised the impact of Gilbert’s hard work in making Detroit a better place.
The 53 year-old and dad of five, Gilbert, grew up in the suburbs hearing stories of the city’spast glory, and hanging out at his father’s bar in the city. He was one of those children who started candy and pizza selling schemes in elementary school. He has been selling mortgages since his early 20s and right from the beginning his formula for making the monotonous business of mortgages exciting was to make his company a trendy place to work. Now, he is using that same principle to breathe life back into Detroit. He is a real Midwesterner in that he never tried to go anywhere else.While Dan Gilbert is funding Detroit’s future, he is also reshaping it.
[image Jason Kryk/The Windsor Star]