Letter from the Editor: Global Ambitions

R.J. King
R.J. King

Downtown Detroit has never looked better, at least in many decades. But more work needs to be done, from adding a major soccer stadium to improving aging public amenities like the Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Fountain in Grand Circus Park, if we are to tout ourselves as a world-class city. 

Little Caesars Arena, nearing completion at Woodward Avenue and Henry Street, will certainly draw sports fans, concertgoers, and business conferences — but it’s just one piece of the overall challenge of rebuilding a city that, starting in the early 1950s, suffered from a mass migration of people to the suburbs, racial problems, and mortgage redlining. 

Compounding the redevelopment is the disposition of the factories, mills, smelters, and other vestiges of the Industrial Revolution. To support the growth of the auto industry and the millions of armaments needed for World War II, factories were built in the neighborhoods, as few people owned cars prior to 1940 (save for Henry Ford’s Model T, which ceased production in 1927).

Many of the factories and the small supply shops are still standing, and until the city, state, and federal governments demolish the structures and convert them into residences, recreation centers, or parks, touting Detroit as a world-class city is folly. 

Give Mayor Mike Duggan and his development team credit, for in recent months the city has moved to turn around individual neighborhoods by working with residents and stakeholders to plan, build, and maintain new and renovated homes and amenities, but more needs to be accomplished. 

With residential vacancies at record levels in downtown and Midtown, more people are moving to Eastern Market, Lafayette Park, the riverfront, Corktown, Mexicantown, and other historic neighborhoods. And with all those new residents comes an elevated expectation that public resources, such as Edison Fountain, be among the finest attractions in the world.

We have the model in the form of Campus Martius Park and the riverfront east of the Renaissance Center, but our other parks need more attention. Take Edison Fountain, which was acquired for $25,000 and moved to the west side of Grand Circus Park. It was nice when it was dedicated in 1929, but today it leaves a lot to be desired. 

As for the soccer stadium, it’s safe to say a lot of folks in metro Detroit would like to see the world’s most popular sport make a home where the failed jail project sits derelict at Gratiot Avenue and St. Antoine Street. Moving the jail and court operations to I-75 and Forest Avenue makes much more sense.

The challenge is getting the private and public sectors to agree on an appropriate price. The County argues it needs to be made whole from a disaster of its own making. It also fails to see the reality that selling the property to Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores for the soccer stadium and related development puts the land back on the tax rolls.

As often happens a handful of egos has gotten in the way. In recent months, the
development team at Wayne County has complained privately that Gilbert and Gores failed to consult them when they first announced their proposal more than a year ago. And there lies the reason for the stalemate.

It’s time our politicians and their appointees actually listen to what the citizens desire. The people who live in Detroit don’t want second-class parks or a jail serving as a gateway to downtown. They want world-class amenities so we can restore our status as a world-class city.

— R.J. King, rjking@dbusiness.com

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