Four Innovative Ideas for DIA's New CEO

Last week, the Downtown Investment Authority selected Aundra C. Wallace of Detroit's Landbank Authority to serve as its first CEO. Here are four creative revitalization initiatives underway in Detroit that should be packed in his suitcase for the drive down south.

Published June 12, 2013 in Development -

1. M1-Streetcar

Over the past decade, developers and city officials across the U.S. have taken an interest in downtown streetcar systems as a development tool. By the end of 2015, downtown Detroit will be connected with adjacent urban neighborhoods with a 3.3-mile streetcar line of its own. However, this transit project is unique in that it is being funded by the surrounding business community to encourage transit oriented development.

M1 Rail, a group of private investors and philanthropists, led by Penske Corp. founder Roger Penske and Quicken Loans Inc. founder Dan Gilbert, has served as the driving force behind the project.

Pushing for quick implementation, major funding commitments of $3 million have come from Wayne State University, Quicken Loans, the Ilitch companies, Penske Corp., Compuware Corp., Chevrolet, Chrysler Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System, Wayne County government, the Ford Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Additional funding has come in the form of $1 million from the Hudson Webber Foundation and $35.1 million from the Kresge Foundation. Other funding sources include $9 million from the Detroit Downtown Development Authority, $16 million in federal New Market Tax Credits and a $25 million federal TIGER grant.

Overall, the 11-station fixed transit system will cost $137 million to construct. of that $85 million will be for streetcar infrastructure and $27 million for six modern streetcar vehicles. Construction is anticipated to commence by August 2013, with the line beginning operation in 2015. The line is expected to bring over $500 million worth of economic development to the corridor.

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2. 15x15 Initiative

The 15x15 initiative began as a coordinated effort in 2009 by Wayne State University (WSU), Henry Ford Health System, Detroit Medical Center (DMC) and the Hudson Webber Foundation to make the greater downtown Detroit area an attractive place for young professionals.

Like Jacksonville, Detroit was a city that had struggled to establish seamless coordination between public, private sectors and the largest employers in its urban core. Nevertheless, it was believed that the single best predictor of a region’s economic health and prosperity is the proportion of adults with a four-year degree or more.

According to Hudson Webber's website, 1515 is a shared vision to attract 15,000 young, talented households to Greater Downtown Detroit by 2015.  

The group's initial efforts focus on low-hanging fruit, such as coordinating public safety efforts to make the area safer, shuttle services for better transportation, and workforce development to provide jobs for WSU's students at Henry Ford and DMC. There's also a program, known as "Live Midtown" that the companies encourage their employees to live nearby. Long term, they plan to coordinate their property development efforts as well.

Although sometimes referred to as a talent strategy, 1515 is much more a place-based strategy, working in a targeted geography to make it the kind of place young talent wants to be.  By focusing on talent attraction and retention, ultimately issues that are a critical to achieving that end goal arise – housing, jobs and business opportunities, retail and third places, and safety and perceived safety.

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3. Live Downtown Housing Incentive Program

For many decades, Americans tended to move out of major cities into nearby suburbs, especially as cars let them commute to work. However, since 2010 the growth rate of cities has surpassed that of the suburbs. This is a trend that has occurred since the 1920s.

Like Jacksonville, there is a demand for housing in downtown Detroit.  However, the cost to construct housing from the ground up or retrofitting existing structures, exceeds leasing and purchase prices the market will support.  To help eliminate this financing gap, the Live Downtown housing incentive program was created.  Modeled after Live Midtown, employees of Blue Cross Blue Shield, DTE Energy, Compuware Corporation, Quicken Loans and Strategic Staffing Solutions can receive cash incentives to move into the city. Combined, more than 15,000 employees at the five companies are eligible to participate in the program.

Here's how the incentives work: New homeowners can receive a $20,000 forgivable loan; new renters a $2,500 rental allowance (and $1,000 for the second year). In addition, existing renters will receive $1,000 for renewing a lease, and existing homeowners can receive matching funds of up to $5,000 for exterior improvements on projects of $10,000 or more.

With this in mind, each company has pledged $200,000 a year for five years to fund the program.

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4. Place-Centered Revitalization

Over the years, Metro Jacksonville has been a huge proponent of Project for Public Spaces' Power of 10 concept for the redevelopment of parks, such as Hemming Plaza. However, Detroit is applying the Power of 10 concept at the downtown level.  

The Power of 10 framework suggests that a great city needs at least ten great districts, each with at least ten great places, which in turn each have at least ten things to do. Great public spaces produce an energy and enthusiasm that spills over into surrounding areas. By being conscious of this and planning for it from the start, Placemakers can speed up the process of revitalization by making sure that the key places within their district complement each other and great a major regional destination. That is the promise of the Placemaking vision for downtown Detroit. It is a grand experiment made up of many small, human-scaled parts and the largest full-scale Power of 10 exercise undertaken yet.

Focusing primarily on enhancing three major downtown public parks and the Woodward Avenue corridor, implementation of the plan will begin in summer 2013.

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Article by Ennis Davis

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