Detroit's Downtown "Starting to Fight Back"

Posted on August 9, 2011

For the past seven months, geologist Dan Ten Brink has made his home in a loft in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, working at an upscale cafe to make ends meet while on the lookout for a more permanent job.

The Grand Rapids native, 26 and single, loves city living and riding his bike all over town, and he notes that today’s Detroit, while decidedly urban, retains a small-town feel that is less overwhelming than, say, Chicago or New York.

He is part of a trend of young professionals who are relocating to Detroit. Although the city has lost significant population in the past several decades, including a 25 percent drop from 2000 to 2010, one demographic is up 59 percent: college-educated professionals ages 24 to 35 who live downtown, according to the 2010 census.

With a host of apartments, condos and lofts opening in midtown and several large companies such as Quicken Loans, Compuware and Blue Cross and Blue Shield moving operations to the city center – and offering cash incentives, no less, to staffers willing to live nearby – the rebirth of Detroit is capturing the imaginations of young and upwardly mobile explorers who say they want to get in on the ground floor of what they describe as a cultural shift.

“This is a city that is starting to fight back,” Mr. Ten Brink said. “A lot of people have moved in from the suburbs because they want to be a part of a growing urban culture.

“It’s starting to turn upbeat here,” he said. “It’s a fun area to be around. I feel like new things are happening, and it’s great to see it taking shape.”

A city opening its doors

After taking years of criticism for political malfeasance, a foreclosure epidemic and epic blight, Detroit was named last month by Forbesmagazine as the best American city for business.

Some would dispute the superlative, but those who support the emerging business and creative mojo say the city is opening its doors to possibilities, reinventing itself amid criticism from outsiders that the Motor City has become unmanageably dirty, poor and crime-ridden.

One of those true believers is Nate Forbes – no connection to the magazine – a Detroit-area native who is the managing partner in theForbes Co., which owns and manages the tony Somerset Collection shopping center in nearby Troy.

The company opened a CityLoft shop on Detroit’s once-resplendent Woodward Avenue, now a mishmash of fledgling businesses and empty storefronts. The 4,500-square-foot retail space offers a sampling of wares from the high-end retailers at Somerset.

At the shop’s swanky opening last week, Mayor Dave Bing, the formerDetroit Pistons star who has faced down a $126 million budget shortfall and criticisms that his business sensibilities outweigh his compassion, proudly proclaimed, “Our city is ready to come back.”

Mr. Forbes said he is realistic about growth – it won’t happen overnight – but that the changes are dynamic and the atmosphere palpable.

“This area was a bustling street for many years. Now, when you are down here you can feel the momentum with all of the young people around,” he said. “They have rebuilt the riverfront area. It’s becoming more of a dynamic place.”

The rebirth, he said, has been shaped by public-private partnerships, and he calls the current generation of city leaders business-friendly.