The $5 Billion Zone: Why southwest Detroit is a hotbed of development

The $5 Billion Zone: Why southwest Detroit is a hotbed of development


By Jackie Berg, Founder & Publisher, TheHUB

Detroit’s District 6 is marked by some of the city’s most exciting new development and infrastructure projects, but also some of its most visible signs of long-time disinvestment.

Southwest Detroit, for example, is bursting with energy. Many claim that it is the next “it” place to live, work and play. On the flip side, it’s a place that demands more immediate investment and infrastructure improvements to keep pace with its development potential.

That makes it “the place” for forward-thinking developers and residents willing to bet on its growth potential.

District 6 sits at the precipice of greater development as investment downtown is pushing both residential and commercial interests further out into neighborhoods.

Stretching from downtown on the eastern end to the far southwestern city limits of the Boynton neighborhood, it includes downtown, Midtown, Corktown, Hubbard Farms, Woodbridge and Springwells, among other residential pockets such as Delray and Oakwood Heights.

Home to more than 6,000 small businesses, 123 grocery stores, more than 100 churches and 40 schools, the district also houses about a dozen senior facilities.

It is marked by some of the city’s most ambitious new development and infrastructure projects, including the Gordie Howe International Bridge (GHIB). But, it also shows the fading scars of long-time disinvestment.

Dare we say it? Opportunity lives here

Detroit is awash with new developments and infectious energy. DTE Energy’s Beacon Park photo courtesy of the Downtown Detroit Partnership


Between now and 2020, capital investment in downtown Detroit is projected at $5.4 billion, according to CBRE Group Inc. That includes more than 6,000 new apartment units, 1,200 new hotel units and 2.1 million square feet in new office space in development.

A big chunk of that investment comes from Bedrock and Ilitch Holdings Inc.

Bedrock, Quicken owner Dan Gilbert’s real estate development arm, is set to pump an additional $2.1 billion in new development downtown in coming years.

Ilitch Holdings Inc. is on track to invest about $2 billion in Detroit, which includes the new Little Caesars Arena and the area around it.

More development means more jobs for everyone, particularly in the construction industry, which has a widespread shortage of qualified workers today.

We’ve got to do more to attract young people and adults to get into training and apprenticeship programs that lead to high-paying jobs in skilled trades, and we need more of them, like the program at Randolph Career Technical Center covered in this issue.

Never Stop Dreaming /Nunca Dejes de Sonar mural by artist Jen Boya


As much as city neighborhoods crave the big investments, its growth in small business starts (and expansion) and jobs that will likely be the biggest drivers of neighborhood growth in Southwest Detroit, according to Rob Dewaelsche, the newly-installed president of Southwest Detroit Business Association and former Neighborhood Economic Development Director of TheHUB.

Southwest Detroit is full of them.

Mexicantown’s independent, often family-operated restaurants, art  and retail enterprises dominate its business district  and employ thousands of local residents.

The city needs to be sensitive to the needs of these employers, who report a double-digit drop in sales revenue due to deportation concerns.

As important, it needs to push down the accelerator on stalled projects like Vernor Crossing, which, if approved by the City of Detroit, would fill an important gap in products and services that residents currently have to leave the neighborhoods to find.

The city also needs to support creative marketing strategies to ensure the 15,000 Midtown-area renters currently seeking new home ownership and rental options consider making Southwest Detroit their new address.

Balanced growth that is mutually respectful of the historic nature of southwest Detroit’s citizenry and community culture and the new arrivals that are driving innovative development is key, according to SDBA President Robert Dewaelsche.

“The challenge,” says Dewaelsche, “will be to manage the growth in population so incoming residents respect the cultural backgrounds and community loyalty long-time residents hold so dear and vice versa.”

These efforts, coupled with the Community Benefit (Bridge) agreement, which will pour $55 million in neighborhood improvement, job training, and air and health monitoring projects, will help Southwest Detroit leap frog over temporary hurdles and go for the growth.

That’s the shiny part.



Other parts of District 6 look very different.

Working-class, foreclosure-burdened Boynton has some of the lowest vacancy rates of any neighborhood in the city even though its low real estate values remain stable.

The 48217 zip code that covers Boynton and Oakwood Heights is Michigan’s most polluted.

The Delray community, which will be home to facilities operating the Gordie Howe International Bridge, has lost about 90 percent of its population since 1930 and stands to lose even more as the majority of current residents accept relocation support (Bridging Neighborhoods program) to move outside of the increasingly industrial area.

Although some progress is being made on pollution standards and abatement, blight removal and more recently, residential relocations there is still a lot of heavy lifting ahead.

Art and cultural attractions abound in Detroit’s District 6. Renown muralist and avid cyclist Hubert Massey bikes by the Southwest Detroit mural he created. Photo by Tim Galloway


Part of District 6 thrives with entrepreneurial opportunities, demand for limited housing stock, and investor appeal. Elsewhere, the greater asset of Detroiters with low-to-moderate incomes is their collective heart and devoted community spirit. Both offer more opportunity for investment.

This edition of TheHUB’s #LiveLoveDetroit series is devoted to exploring the people, places, institutions and efforts that co-exist in one dynamic enclave and applauding the stand-outs.

Among them is Larson Realty Group’s “The Corner” (historic Tiger Stadium) project plan, which includes an innovative commitment to support subsidized retail space for area businesses (see page 8 for additional project details)

Another is the Southwest Detroit Business Association’s storefront lofts initiative on West Vernor, which will eventually help as many as 88 existing business owners create new revenue streams from existing loft space.  Twelve loft renovations are underway now, according to the SDBA.

With such an economically, culturally and professionally diverse group of professionals, artists, entrepreneurs, investors and neighborhood leaders in the district, there’s no reason it should not achieve its full growth potential.

We hope you’re encouraged, as we were, to learn about those helping to lead the charge.

Lead photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

See more of TheHUB’s #LiveLoveDetroit coverage on District 6:

Why investors are pouring $5 billion into southwest Detroit

The $5 Billion Zone: Southwest Detroit is a hotbed of development

City Living’s Austin Black explains why housing investments are on the rise in District 6

Eighty-eight southwest Detroit shop owners eye potential to build-out profit-producing loft space

ProsperUS helps southwest Detroit entrepreneurs climb aboard $3.9 billion economic engine

Model development in Southwest Detroit builds housing that suits neighborhood need while driving additional investment

Detroit’s Rivertown readies for improvements to waterfront

‘Life changing’ program helps young Detroiters through high-growth skilled trades industry

Bridge to new beginnings: One small Detroit community fought for its share and won

Changing the Tide: Public officials work to reduce negative impact of deportation







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