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Building blocks of urban redevelopment

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Building blocks of urban redevelopment

Politicians dream of African Town, but renewal needs cash, incentives

November 8, 2004

BY JOHN GALLAGHER

FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

If it seems everyone was arguing about Detroit's proposed African Town project this fall, one group was noticeably silent.

The people with little to say, at least publicly, were those who actually build successful bricks-and-mortar development in struggling urban markets such as Detroit and Highland Park. For many of these professionals -- developers, bankers, brokers and investors -- the Detroit City Council-backed plan for a marketing district geared to African Americans smacked of politics more than business.

"There were no development people involved in bringing this," George Jackson, president of the quasi-public Detroit Economic Growth Corp., which promotes deal-making in the city, said last week.

Anika Goss-Foster, program director for the Local Initiatives Support Corp., a nonprofit organization that trains neighborhood development groups, agreed. "I don't know anyone in economic development, either for-profit or nonprofit, who was engaged in the conversation."

But if bricks-and-mortar professionals weren't wowed by the city council's initial plan, they agree the African Town debate has gotten people talking about how to jump-start urban redevelopment. The consensus: There is indeed a tried-and-true set of development tools that have proven successful over the years in creating projects in distressed markets.

To be sure, these tools and techniques don't guarantee success. Redeveloping a city like Detroit takes enormous patience, skill and luck. Nor can a city neglect efforts such as improving schools and providing a welcoming atmosphere for immigrants, who often provide entrepreneurial energy.

But over many years, experts have learned that certain things have proven essential to anyone hoping to build malls, housing and other types of urban redevelopment projects.

For starters, successful projects take:

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