Detroit Center for Innovation Comes to Former Wayne County Jail Site, Anchored by $300M U-M Research, Education Center

Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan will create a $300 million research and education center to anchor a 14-acre Detroit Center for Innovation at the site of the former Wayne County Jail project at Gratiot Avenue and St. Antoine Street. The building will offer programs that focus on high-tech research, education, and innovation.
U-M research and education center, map of campus
A research and education center will anchor the Detroit Center for Innovation, to be built at the former Wayne County Jail project. // Images courtesy of the city of Detroit

Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan will create a $300 million research and education center to anchor a 14-acre Detroit Center for Innovation at the site of the former Wayne County Jail project at Gratiot Avenue and St. Antoine Street. The building will offer programs that focus on high-tech research, education, and innovation.

Construction on the campus, which will serve as an eastern gateway into the central business district, will commence in 2021. Construction of the U-M facility will likely take two to three years.

The 190,000-square-foot building will be designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, a large architectural, interior, and master planning services firm based in New York City that has around 650 employees. The new facility is anticipated to serve up to 1,000 graduate and senior-level undergraduate students pursuing degrees in mobility, artificial intelligence, data science, entrepreneurship, sustainability, cybersecurity, financial technology, and more.

Development of the building will be made possible by a gift from Stephen M. Ross, chairman of Related Cos. in New York City and a nephew of the late industrial, Max Fisher. Ross, who envisioned the center, has provided major gifts to establish the Ross School of Business and expand Michigan Stadium, both located at the university’s main campus in Ann Arbor.

“I spent my childhood and many of my young adult years living and working in Detroit and have long wanted to find a way to have a real impact on my hometown,” says Ross. “The University of Michigan helped spark my entrepreneurial spirit and nurtured my curiosity for all aspects of innovation, leading me to not only become a founder, but an incubator and investor in a variety of technologies and businesses.”

In addition to Ross, Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans Inc. in Detroit, and other public and private funders, will provide leadership gifts for the U-M project.

“The idea of the new center reflects the shared commitment of Dan, myself, the city, the county, the state, and the University of Michigan to create a transformative center for innovation that will help fuel the city’s next chapter of growth,” Ross says. “The center has the potential to not only attract new businesses to Detroit, but the school and its graduates will generate new ideas, new companies, and new opportunities for the community, the city, and the region.

“Based on the commitments we already have in hand and the strong interest being expressed by other donors, I am highly confident that this project will come to full fruition.”

The initial phase of the Detroit Center for Innovation build-out will also include incubator and startup services for entrepreneurs, collaboration space for established companies, residential units, a hotel and conference center, and event space. It will connect the central business district and Greektown to Lafayette Park and Eastern Market.

“This is a transformative project in the history of our region, with impact beyond U-M and Detroit,” says Dug Song, co-founder and former CEO of Duo Security Inc., a large digital security firm in Ann Arbor that was recently sold to Cisco Systems in San Jose. “The Detroit Center for Innovation promises to be a gravity well for talent and capital, producing exciting new startups with ties to local industry that have the potential to sustain a long-term engine of growth and investment.”

The academic center will be for undergraduate students in their last year as well as those seeking graduate degrees or certificates. It is designed to offer a pipeline of talent for the state and opportunities for workers. It also builds on Detroit’s growing presence as a center for innovation, which includes General Motors Co.’s world headquarters at the Renaissance Center, Ford’s Corktown mobility campus, TechTown Detroit, Wayne State University, and more.

An interdisciplinary committee made up of faculty from U-M’s three campuses and led by James Hilton, vice provost at U-M, will develop the programs and advise on the building’s design in relation to academic needs. The committee will work with the Detroit business community, and programs will be reevaluated every few years to keep up with need. Every program will have an expiration date.

“U-M will provide advanced educational programs through the Detroit Center for Innovation that will be tailored to the current and future needs of the local economy,” says Mark Schlissel, president of U-M. “The Detroit Center for Innovation is just the latest part of a thriving ecosystem of U-M engagement with the city of Detroit and its people. Our work involves collaborations that support a broad array of our state’s and communities’ needs, and the foundations for these partnerships began years, or even decades, ago through connections with local leaders, public school teachers, businesses, and community advocates.

“We greatly appreciate Stephen Ross’ long and generous history of working to propel our university into the future, and we look forward to embarking with Dan Gilbert on this new venture for Detroit.”

In addition the upcoming U-M’s upcoming presence at the Detroit Center for Innovation, the university’s area offerings includes UM-Dearborn, the Detroit Center on Woodward, and the Rackham Memorial Building, located immediately south of the Detroit Institute of Arts. U-M also is involved in the cradle-to-career P-20 collaboration at Marygrove College in Detroit.

The university has announced the Rackham building will be the eventual home for a number of Detroit-based programs and functions, including an undergraduate admissions office, the Michigan Engineering Zone robotics program for Detroit high school students, and the Poverty Solutions research initiative. It also has initiatives such as Wolverine Pathways, a free year-found college readiness program for students in seventh-12th grade who live in Detroit. Those who complete it and are admitted to U-M or UM-Dearborn are given four-year tuition scholarships.

Bedrock, part of Gilbert’s Rock Family of Cos., acquired the Gratiot jail site from Wayne County in 2018 after agreeing to build a new $533 million criminal justice center near Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood. That project is now under construction.

Since acquiring the jail site along Gratiot, Bedrock demolished the half-built jail structure and is using the site to support construction related to other developments in downtown.

“Acquiring the Gratiot site was a priority for us, as Dan had always envisioned it as a gateway to the city. He knew that the perfect development would not only activate the site, but be a catalyst for the entire city,” says Matt Cullen, CEO of Bedrock. “By partnering with Stephen Ross and the University of Michigan, we are able to strategically develop the space to accommodate, attract, and develop top talent from across the nation and from our own neighborhoods.

“The center expands technology-focused skills training in Detroit and will connect that talent with sustainable and competitive careers right outside their door. We could not have imagined better partners to build this than Stephen Ross and the University of Michigan and are eager to see Dan’s vision come to life.”

The development of the Detroit Center for Innovation will be publicly reviewed by the Wayne County Commission, which will play a role in transferring the land for the project from Bedrock to U-M.

“My administration saw it as our responsibility to get the best possible result at the failed jail site. I take pride in the fact that we demolished one of the most infamous symbols of government failure and are now poised to build a world-class educational center,” says Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. “As the project progresses, it is now our responsibility to ensure this is an inclusive institution that any student in the city and county can aspire to attend. I look forward to working with our partners to ensure students of all backgrounds and income levels have a viable path to study and grow here.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Evans, and other project partners will take the next 90-180 days to assess the feasibility of the overall project and conduct community engagement with surrounding neighborhoods.

“This announcement represents an incredible commitment to Detroit by Stephen Ross, Mark Schlissel, and Dan Gilbert that will allow us to develop, attract, and retain world-class talent,” Duggan says. “Detroit has always been a leader in innovation, and this new center will help ensure that continues to be the case into the future. It also sends a powerful message to our young people about the city we are trying to build together. Instead of turning this property into a place where Detroiters are taken to be incarcerated, we are going to build for them one of the finest learning centers anywhere, filled with hope and real opportunity.”