I visited Detroit for the first time this week, and have 2 main takeaways:
1. Downtown reminds me of SoMa in San Francisco 15 years ago. There’s a very palpable vibe of innovation and revitalization, but it hasn’t hit full stride. Everything is happening on the insides of the buildings, not on the streets just yet.
QuickenLoans founder Dan Gilbert has had a big role in revitalizing downtown. His parent company for QL is called Rock Holdings, and is comprised over over 100 companies, many of which are real estate acquisition and development firms that bought up buildings downtown and many are companies that now occupy those buildings including QL which is a flagship in the Rock portfolio. At the conference I attended, here’s what Dan said about downtown Detroit office space:
The only thing similar to a grey or beige layout of office cubes is a prison. Our move into downtown Detroit in 2010 was about creativity, innovation, and variety of office space across the urban core – @QuickenLoans founder @cavsdan & vice chair @billemerson at #MBATech18
— Julian Hebron (@TheBasisPoint) April 17, 2018
If that’s not what San Francisco is today and what it was about to be 15 years ago, I don’t know what is. I had a chance to visit some offices in buildings he owns, and the creativity, innovation, and variety of space holds true. Tons of energy. So the next step is more business, coffee shops, grocery stores to bring that buzz to the streets.
I remember when SoMa had this exact same vibe—cool office spaces, even cooler lofts and condos—but the streets were still scattered with broken car glass. No grocery stores, minimal walking around culture. That was 2003. Now it’s the most important innovation center in the world. But it’s too expensive. Coffee is like $75 and one-bedroom condos are $1.5m—only one exaggeration there. So Detroit may prove a welcome second city for the innovation to keep growing in a place that people can afford.
2. Midwest spirit and Detroit pride is also very palpable. Everyone is infected with a certain swagger about how the city is rebuilding itself. I lived in Chicago for years earlier in my career and have many close friends I first met in that era, so I’m well versed in Midwest pride. It’s real. People are tough, they work hard, and it’s not just because frigid winters keep people focused. It’s because this mindset is just woven into Midwest DNA.
I’m no Detroit historian, but I know the most important part: the heritage of a once-mighty city of industry is also woven into the DNA of its people. And when you combine this with Detroit’s newfound momentum and the Midwest mindset, one unmistakable thing you feel with everyone you talk to: they have something to prove. For themselves and for their city.
Detroit is not f**king around, and as we fast forward 5, 10, 15 years, we will keep hearing its economic engine roar.
Fun couple days. Thanks for having me Detroit.