Dan Gilbert and Mike Ilitch: 2 Billionaires, 2 Visions For Remaking Downtown Detroit
In The Detroit News, Louis Aguilar documents the two "starkly different" visions -- and Dan Gilbert and Mike Ilitch, the wealthy entrepreneurs behind them -- that are reshaping downtown Detroit.
Combined, the two entities have invested more than $2 billion in a downtown that was crumbling. They are big reasons why downtown is rebounding even as Detroit goes through a wrenching Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
Ilitch and Gilbert both aim to restore a round-the-clock walkable district with its own mass transit, chocked with stores and upscale apartments, and full of unique entertainment destinations. Both men are major contributors to a $140 million effort to build a 3.3-mile streetcar line along Woodward.
“It is unprecedented. There is really no period of history where major parts of downtown are in the hands of one, two entities,” said John Mogk, a Wayne State University law professor who closely follows Detroit development. “This is planning on such a major scale; it’s aimed at reviving downtown, and also changing how it functions.”
Both also have ignited public criticism. Here's how Gilbert, 52, and Ilitch, 84, differ:
Gilbert's organization operates at a breathtaking pace, buying, renovating and filling buildings. He hosts town hall meetings, creates overarching brands such as "Opportunity Detroit," speaks at conferences and regularly issues tweets.
Ilitch and family rarely make public comments or appearances. They operate in secret and enrage preservationists for demolishing historical buildings. Even some of their defenders acknowledge they have contributed to downtown blight.