Letter from the Editor: Amazon Appeal

R.J. King
R.J. King

Detroit has a good chance of landing Amazon, which next year plans to announce where it will locate a second national headquarters, bringing with it up to $5 billion in spending and 50,000 jobs. Why?

The city has an abundance of available land in and near the downtown district, including new office towers that Bedrock — the real estate arm owned by Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans Inc. — will soon break ground on at the Hudson’s site and the Monroe Block. He’s also renovating the Book Tower and the Book Building into offices, residences, a hotel, and retail space.

Other mixed-use projects that include offices are Bedrock’s renovation of the David
Stott Tower and the Detroit Free Press Building along with a 310,000-square–foot expansion of One Campus Martius (formerly the Compuware Building).

Gilbert and his Bedrock team, which led the application process for attracting Amazon, also are working with General Motors Co. to develop a large office, residential, and commercial development on a series of surface parking lots east of the automaker’s world headquarters at the Renaissance Center.

Other land and buildings that could interest Amazon include several blocks of park-
ing lots behind the Fox Theatre, most of which are owned by Ilitch Holdings Inc., the parent company of Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings, and several other entities. The company also controls a good deal of land in The District Detroit, the 50-block area that spans downtown and Midtown and includes the new Little Caesars Arena.

There’s also the former Michigan Central Depot in Corktown and several neighboring blocks that are controlled by the Moroun family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge. Closer to downtown is a pair of office towers just north of the Greyhound bus station, as well as numerous surface parking lots that are owned by Sam Danou.

Apart from available land and buildings — it will take several years for Amazon to add up to 50,000 employees, regardless of what city is selected — Detroit and the region have plenty else to offer, including an excellent university network and close proximity to Windsor, Ont. The latter component of the proposal would assist Amazon with immigration challenges it may experience in the United States.

One proposal offered by Alexander Pollock, a former urban planner at the Detroit Planning Department, includes the construction of office towers for Amazon along the border of both cities. A gondola would connect the structures. Pollack says the aerial tramway could be public or private.

What’s more, Michigan offers access to large industries including manufacturing,
agriculture, hospitality, and technology. And Detroit Metropolitan Airport, with its six runways (a seventh one could be added), connects Amazon to a growing logistics network. 

In fact, one reason Amazon has built or will soon add three fulfillment centers and one sortation facility in Brownstown Township, Livonia, Romulus, and Shelby Township, which will collectively employ 3,500 workers (it also has an office at the 150 W. Jefferson Building in downtown Detroit for 300 employees), is the close proximity to Detroit Metro. Many other large airports, like those in Chicago, are land-locked and will take years to expand.

Even if Detroit doesn’t land Amazon, its application serves as a marketing plan to draw
other major corporations and investors from around the world. That’s the best news of all.

— R.J. King, rjking@dbusiness.com at the end