Detroit resurgence ‘just getting started,’ Chris Ilitch says in talk with Dan Gilbert

DETROIT — The city’s top two real estate developers touted their massive downtown construction projects as examples of Detroit’s economic resurgence at a Urban Land Institute conference on Wednesday.

And Ilitch Holdings CEO Chris Ilitch said the current surge in development activity represents just the beginning for Detroit.

The Urban Land Institute’s annual Spring Meeting gathers thousands of real estate leaders from around the country to study business trends and tour cities that have gone through transformations.

Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, who joined Ilitch on stage Wednesday, noted that while significant progress has been in Detroit, far more job creation, safety enhancement, education improvement and blight prevention is sorely needed.

“You can’t have better education until you increase the population,” Gilbert said. “You won’t have a big enough tax base. No one will move into the city until you create more jobs. No one will create more jobs until there’s enough people to fill the city.”

The solution, he believes, is what he calls the Big Bang approach.

“The theory is, the universe was created in one-trillionth of a second,” said Gilbert, who plans to build Michigan’s tallest building at the former Hudson’s department store site in a massive, $900-million project.

“I’m not talking quite that fast, but if you develop a vision for all of these challenges at one time… and you have everyone around you behind the boat that’s rowing in the same direction… can you have a shot at really accomplishing this and making this happen? To me, that’s really the only way.”

Gilbert also plans a $1-billion mixed-use development at the site of a failed Wayne County jail construction site, among many other major projects like the Shinola Hotel.

The Ilitch family, meanwhile, is building a new Little Caesars headquarters, and continues to build around the $863-million-plus Little Caesars Arena, including a pedestrian plaza along Columbia Street$200-million in office space and a sixth parking garage.

“Detroit is at a unique moment in time,” said Ilitch. “Detroit is just getting started.”

Ilitch also claims that Olympia Development’s 26 surface parking lots “serve as launching pads for new development.”

The Ilitch family owns the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, which were bought by Chris Ilitch’s late father, Mike Ilitch. In the 1950s, Mike and his wife Marian established Little Caesars pizza.

“The story of my late father Mike Ilitch and my mother Marian Ilitch really began to intertwine with development and land use in Detroit,’ Ilitch said. “Woodward Avenue… had around this time frame become neglected and run down. Then Mayor Coleman Young called my parents.

“(He) was calling to ask my parents to consider the aging, yet historic Fox Theater and its adjoining office building as a possible new home for their global enterprise.”

Other big-name businesses that have moved into or near the downtown-area in recent years include: Nike, Under Armour, John Varvatos, Bonobos, Lululemon, LinkedIn, Google, Microsoft, and the Detroit Pistons, who now play at the Little Caesars Arena and are building a practice facility in New Center.

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