This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.


Detroit: Arts centers boost downtown's rebirth

Recommended Posts

Arts centers boost downtown's rebirth

Entertainment sparks spinoff development, pumps $700 million into Detroit economy in 2002

By R.J. King, and Darci McConnell / The Detroit News


DETROIT -- From her condominium window, Denise Tryon can see all the way from Brush Park to the Super Bowl.

Tryon's new home in the historic Carola Building is surrounded by the Detroit of stereotypes -- weed-strewn lots, abandoned buildings and near-empty streets. But the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's French horn player looks around her new neighborhood and doesn't think the streets will be empty much longer.

"When I walked out of the Carola for the first time, I could see the stadium district to the south and Orchestra Hall to the north, and I remember saying: 'Yeah, this is it,' " she said.

Tryon is a foot soldier in a more than $3.8 billion revival of Detroit's Woodward corridor that is turning one of the city's saddest areas into a center of arts, entertainment and housing.

This week's gala opening of the Max M. Fisher Music Center, a sparkling $60 million addition to Orchestra Hall, will be a key moment in Detroit's long-promised and often-delayed revival. Detroit residents long ago learned to be skeptical of downtown redevelopment plans. But now, there are brick-and-mortar reasons to believe the city will have a shiny new heart by the time the Super Bowl is held in the new Ford Field in 2006.

"It takes patience, and it takes a while, and it can't be done overnight," said former Mayor Dennis W. Archer. "It's starting to come together -- it's like nice little pieces -- but they're all filling in."

It may not be Chicago's Golden Mile, but it could become the Billion Dollar Mile. Start at the Detroit River and head north along Woodward, and you'll see the rebirth of a city:

General Motors is spending a half-billion dollars alone on renovations of the Renaissance Center. The Marriott is being renovated, and the former Summit restaurant atop the hotel will reopen next year as an upscale restaurant.

The Campus Martius Park will open next summer next to the new Compuware Center, a 15-story structure housing 4,200 new downtown workers. Next door, a $20 million renovation of 1001 Woodward has raised office occupancy from 15 percent to 40 percent in two years. A $40 million revamp of the recently nearly vacant Dime Building is nearly complete. Almost half of its office space is already rented.

The new Hilton Garden Inn, a $27 million, 198-room hotel, will open in the spring.

Comerica Park, the $300 million home of the Tigers, and Ford Field, the $500 million home of the Lions, have brought 8 million fans downtown since they opened. Those arenas border Woodward Place Condominiums, a 400-unit, $90 million complex that bumps against the historic Brush Park neighborhood.

The Carola Building was reborn as 17 condominiums, one of more than two dozen housing projects being built or planned for the corridor. If all are built, the 2,700 units would bring 3,000 to 5,000 people to a section of the city that, five years ago, had virtually no residents.

Those new residents will have a new place to exercise. By the end of this year, ground will be broken for a $28 million YMCA. The facility, which will include day care, a gymnasium, a swimming pool and educational offerings, is scheduled to open in 2005.

The $122 million Ford High School for Fine, Performing and Communication Arts is under construction on the campus of Orchestra Hall. The Detroit Public Schools project, which can accommodate up to 1,200 students, is scheduled to open in early 2005 with production studios for Detroit public television station WTVS (Channel 56) and Detroit Public Schools radio station WDTR-FM.

The Max leads the way

Next to the school construction site this weekend, at gala opening concerts featuring Itzhak Perlman and Smokey Robinson, the next piece of Detroit's puzzle will be put in place.

And it's a big piece.

Called "The Max" for short, the Max M. Fisher Music Center includes a 450-seat performance hall and an education center, as a $60 million addition to Orchestra Hall. The addition will broaden the type of music, and the number of people, in what is becoming a thriving arts district.

The Detroit Opera Theatre is adding a learning center and a parking structure. The Detroit Institute of Arts is undergoing its own $100 million renovation, to be completed by 2006, and the Gem and Century theaters draw 140,000 people.

Expansion of those organizations will increase the already huge economic impact of the arts, which in 2002 pumped $700 million and 11,755 jobs into the Detroit economy.

And that doesn't count the spinoff from those facilities.

When the Detroit Opera Theater opened in 1996, about 70 percent of the buildings in a two-block radius were vacant, said founder and General Manager David DiChiera.

Today, "you can point to almost every building around us and see activity," said DiChiera, whose theater draws 220,000 patrons annually. More than 100 apartments have been added in a two-block area around the Detroit Opera House, including the Lofts at Woodward Center.

He believes the same revitalization will occur in the blocks around the Max.

A Super Bowl flurry

City officials hope the revitalization will be complete in 27 months, when the nation's eyes turn to Detroit for the Super Bowl. The game has proved to be a catalyst for development such as the planned renovation and reopening of the Book-Cadillac as a hotel, and a deadline for projects such as new sidewalks, lamp posts and landscaping around the stadium.

A similar flurry of redevelopment occurred in downtown Atlanta leading up to the 1996 Olympics. Large stretches of dilapidated housing and abandoned office buildings were renovated. Today, Atlanta's downtown continues to thrive because of that redevelopment.

Could the opening of The Max be a symbol of Detroit finally turning the corner? Harvey Kahalas, dean of Wayne State University's School of Business Administration, thinks so.

"The impact of the Max gives investors and lenders one more shot of confidence in the ongoing revival of Detroit," Kahalas said.

The revival of Midtown and other areas of the city began nearly a decade ago when the Clinton administration selected parts of Detroit as a federal empowerment zone -- a 10-year effort designed to boost some of the most impoverished urban areas in the nation through tax breaks and other incentives.

The empowerment zone helped bring a sense of urgency to Midtown and other areas of the city, said Sue Mosey, president of the University Cultural Center Association, a nonprofit group that helps oversee development activity in the district.

The empowerment zone effort, which expires next year, spans 18.5 square miles in Detroit and all of Midtown.

"When President Clinton visited Detroit's empowerment zone (in 1996), it really opened a lot of people's eyes about the city," Mosey said. "We had some projects going, but things went to another level after Clinton's visit in terms of interest from banks, developers and the media."

Major corporate gifts, institutional investments, private developers and public grants, spurred other improvements. Three casinos, a string of restaurants such as Sweet Georgia Brown and the Holiday Inn Express hotel offer a central city in stark contrast to the one that struggled to attract visitors a decade ago.

The city also has helped spur residential development by offering property tax breaks for up to 12 years to incoming home buyers.

While dozens of buildings have been restored or added in the district in recent years, residents and developers note that more work needs to be done to make the area safer and more livable. Prostitution and drug activity, while slowed in recent years, is still active.

Robert Slattery, president of Midtown Development Corp. in Detroit, which has renovated several historic structures into apartments and condominiums, said even the infamous Cass Corridor that stretches through Midtown has shown signs of improvement in recent years.

"A decade ago, you knew who the drug dealers and prostitutes were because you could see them hanging out in the neighborhood," Slattery said. "But since then, the police have really focused on cleaning things up."

When Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick took office in 2002, he began a campaign to clean up areas like the Cass Corridor, said Henry Hagood, Detroit's director of development activities. "More police patrols have been going through the Cass Corridor and other parts of the city to reduce crime and let residents know that they could feel safe." he said.

In July, Detroit Police Chief Jerry A. Oliver Sr. and Wayne County Prosecutor Michael Duggan reported homicides in the city for the first six months of the year were down 20.4 percent from 196 reported in the same six-month period in 2002. Major crimes such as robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and rape dropped 5.7 percent from 2001 to 2002.

Condos draw suburbanites

The lower crime rates are one reason Slattery is moving forward on other Woodward Corridor projects. His latest, on Alexandrine near Second Avenue, is a $2.2 million renovation of Wayne State University's former mortuary science building into 10 loft condominiums with an average price of $250,000.

The developer also has nearly completed restoration of a once-vacant brick building on Alexandrine near Cass into 12 condominiums. Of the condominiums, priced from $160,000 to $238,000, eight units have been sold -- primarily to suburban residents who, just a few years ago, would never dream of moving to Detroit.

While the dream of a revitalized Detroit is now tangible, there is still a long way to go.

"All of these developments are clearly having a positive impact, the benefit is big," said Sean Werdlow, Detroit's chief financial officer. "That doesn't mean it's erasing all of our financial issues."

Detroit News Staff Writers Ron French and Joy Colby contributed to this report. You can reach R.J. King at (313) 222-2504 or [email protected]

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.