Live Blog: Dan Gilbert's Downtown Pep Rally

March 28, 2013, 5:29 PM

3:50 PM: Thanks for hanging out with us. We've never had this much fun at a party with no food. Be sure to check back for more synthesis on downtown Detroit's future.

For now, two promotional books detailing Gilbert's downtown development plan are available for perusing at the bottom of the page.

3:30 PM: We're going to put away the snark and party hat for a moment here and break down what we just learned. 

1) Papa Joe's. Let's not bury the lede here.

2) Gilbert is not alone in this broad layout of what a future downtown could look like. A variety of organizations and businesses have worked together to create a report that predicts the best practices for creating a vibrant downtown community, including Project for Public Spaces of New York, Terremark Partners 4th Street in Cleveland, Shook Kelley of Charlotte, N.C., and metro-Detroit firm Gibbs Planning. We will post both booklets from the report online shortly at the bottom of the article.

3) The basis of this plan is the idea of "placemaking," a development idea championed by Fred Kent, of the Project for Public Spaces. This idea gives outdoor spaces and street-level business personality by increasing the visibility of the interior of buildings with large glass windows, offering more outdoor concerts and events, creating outdoor seating, increasing green space, and adding other movable "fun" things like games and eateries. Ideally, this would involve altering the street architecture to create a more walkable downtown.

4) Gilbert has signed leases with a number of businesses (tech, retail, food, construction, and even a law firm) to fill up all the space he owns. Included in this are Moosejaw, Avalon Films, Neumann/Smith, RAM Construction, TubeMogul, Harmony Point, Uber, Just Topped, and Salon Detroit. He also announced an international design contest for the former Hudson's site.

5) Cadillac Square, Grand Circus Park, and Capital Park will be the fulcrum of the plan due to some "placemaking" style development. We'll likely see changes in Cadillac Square and Grand Circus this summer.

3:14 PM: All other businesses have suddenly become irrelevant, because downtown Detroit will get a grocery store.

Papa Joe's is coming to Detroit on the 1200 block of Woodward between Gratiot and Grand River in the First National Building on Woodward and Cadillac Square.

3:12 PM: Gilbert tells us a handful of businesses that have signed leases downtown. Notably, Moosejaw stays with a multi-year lease. Downtown Detroit also gets a new ice cream shop called Just Topped, owned by the downtown cupcake bakers Just Baked. 



2:30 PM: Let's get down to the nitty gritty with Dan Gilbert. As he says, "We're going to take you on a little ride."

Gilbert and Kent break down downtown into smaller districts and talk about possibilities in each of these downtown regions, seen above.

The imaginary new Hart Plaza is mentioned again, and can be seen at the right.

A notable, conceptual change mentioned is Jefferson Ave. Jefferson is "an issue," according to Gilbert because it is 8 lanes of mess separating Woodward from the water. Gilbert doesn't own Jefferson (yet), so options thrown out are just ideas: changing the design of the crosswalks slow down traffic and make pedestrians feel comfortable, or something called an "esplanade," which would put a wide sidewalk flanked by greenery in the median on Woodward.

Gilbert then tells us, "We're not going to disclose any of the tenants because they haven't signed leases." (Bummer #2.)

Apparently workers found fun things in the ground as they dug the foundation for the Z site, but we aren't allowed to know what they are.

Gilbert then promises he is about to tell us actual, real things that are going to happen, but the slide show breaks. Gilbert offers to dance instead. (Really.) 

2:22 PM: Kent introduces Gilbert by saying, "Well, Dan. I think you should come out now." Simple enough.

2:05 PM: According to Kent, placmaking is the basis of the downtown development plan. It is a dynamic human function! An act of liberation! True Human empowerment!

Kent gets very excited about benches (not a buzz word, just the kind you sit on) that promote socializing instead of sitting by yourself hoping no one plops down next to you.

Extrapolate this and you get to the root of this placemaking thing. Placemaking is public space design that promotes community involvement based on the needs and desires of the community.

How? Smush a bunch of things to do into one place via "ultra-light and mobile" improvements. Think pop-ups, but even smaller. Snazzy benches, big pots with trees in them, and games on sidewalks.

2 PM: The buzz word today is "placemaking." Dansby tells us that Fred Kent, of Project for Public Spaces, and a few others made up this word, but Kent is about to tell us what it means.

1:50 PM: Dansby, from the Michigan Economic Development Corp basically tells us that the Gilbert crew isn't just making this all up as they go. There is data involved. There are local stakeholders involved. There are a bunch of other smart people involved. And now, there are reports. Opportunity Detroit presents two new reports: "A Plan For Our Time" and "A Placemaking Vision For Downtown Detroit."

Dansby tells us they are "a culmination of several ideas that have come up through the process." They are not "actual renderings," (bummer), just "concepts and ideas" or "starting points."

1:45 PM: Deb Dansby has warned us she will be the most boring part of the presentation. We're pretty sure that was driving up the 8 floors of the parking structure, but we could be convinced otherwise.

1:20 PM: The pre-party has ended, and Matt Cullen is now singing the virtues of the Opportunity Detroit program. Kid Rock('s voice), a master of jacked-up linguistics, made a brief appearance via the Opportunity Detroit promotional video.

In sum, Matt Cullen tell us that, yes, Detroit's got some -- let's call them issues, for the sake of brevity. But, Detroit has things going for it as well. Notably, Cullen says that Gilbert's currently available properties are full or mostly full.

  • M@dison building is at 100% occupancy,
  • First National is at 97% occupancy (some of the floors are still under construction)
  • Chase building (the Qube, if you will) is at 100% occupancy
  • Dime Building (or the Chrysler House, in Gilbert-speak) is at 96% occupancy

In the future he promises a bunch of shiny new things. (Not all of these projects lie solely on Gilbert. They involve a variety of partners.)

  • 3 upcoming residential projects in Capitol Park
  • M1 Rail
  • 5,000 interns here this summer, working for a variety of downtown businesses
  • A water park "for the kids" at Mt. Elliot Park
  • A redesigned Hart Plaza. The renderings presented are not specific, but Cullen says it will be "green, active, and vital."
  • New Red Wings arena

Cullen also says that Gilbert will "hopefully" be the head honcho at Greektown, pending some final steps. He warns, "I can't affirm that officially." But, if this happens, Gilbert and his posse plan to extend Gilbert's block of Monroe out to Greektown.

1:07 PM: We're not the only ones. Matt Cullen, president and CEO of Rock Ventures, just walked on stage and announced, "It's like a party in here!" 

1 PM: When we arrived on the scene of Dan Gilbert's "Woodward Corridor Placemaking and Retail Strategy" roll out, we expected some hype. 

The media advisory mention hundreds of guests and name dropped some Detroit heavy hitters, including reps from the Downtown Detroit Partnership, Rock Ventures, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, and Project for Public Spaces, and Detroit's reinvention master himself, Dan Gilbert.

But sitting here with 400 of Dan Gilbert's closest friends, it's evident Gilbert has hired a hype crew. Eminem is thumping in the background. A man with a headset is guarding the stage, which is alight with blue and red spinning lights. 

We're not sure if any actual information will come of this, but what's clear -- we're in for a show. 

Didn't get a personal invite? (We'd be miffed, too.) Allow us to beef up the hype further, and live blog for you. Stick with us.


A Plan For Our Time


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