Charlevoix Building

Urban development in Detroit refers to a series of revitalizations, over many decades, aimed at enhancing the city's economy and quality of life. An early effort, in response to civil disturbance and racial unrest in the late 1960s, was the "New Detroit" committee, a group of business and community leaders assigned to explore solutions to urban problems. In 1970, the private group "Detroit Renaissance" began to facilitate development in the city, while its successor, "Business Leaders for Michigan," has continued to faciliate development into the 21st century. Projects have included new commerical facilities, revitalization of neighborhoods, hospitality infrastructure, and improvements to recreational and public facilities.


Michigan Governor George Romney, Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, and Joseph L. Hudson, Jr. formed the "New Detroit" committee, which included community leaders from business and labor such as Walter Reuther tasked with identifying solutions to urban problems. Racial tensions which intensified and led to nationwide conflicts in the 1960s provoked the Twelfth Street riot on July 23, 1967. In response, business leaders founded Detroit Renaissance in 1970 to facilitate solutions and urban development. The private group is presently known as Business Leaders for Michigan.

In 1970, Henry Ford II conceived of the Renaissance Center as way to help the city retain residents who were moving to the suburbs. The group announced the first phase of construction in 1971. In the 1970s, Detroit Mayor Roman Gribbs touted the project as "a complete rebuilding from bridge to bridge," referring to the area between the Ambassador Bridge that connected Detroit to Windsor, Ontario and the MacArthur Bridge, which connects the city with Belle Isle Park. The first tower opened on July 1, 1976. Architects initial design for the Renaissance Center focused on creating secure interior spaces, while its design later expanded to connect with the exterior spaces and waterfront through a reconfigured interior, open glass entryways, and a Wintergarden.

Former Mayor Roman Gribbs' call for a complete rebuilding from "bridge to bridge" would however come to fruition much later. A study, commissioned by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, recommended the formation of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization. It has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and manage Detroit's riverfront. The International Riverfront area ranges from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle in downtown Detroit, Michigan encompassing a multitude of parks, restaurants, retail shops, skyscrapers, and high rise residential areas along the Detroit River.

The city's former mayor in the 1990s, Mayor Dennis Archer, a former Michigan Supreme Court Justice, supported a plan to add casinos as a catalyst for the development of Detroit. Initially, Archer's plan was for a casino cluster along the east riverfront. After a prolonged court case over the bidding process, the City of Detroit made headway with new casino resorts open for 2008. The plan would change as the city decided instead to have the a promenade of parks along the International Riverfront to spur residential development, thus freeing the casinos to anchor developments in other areas of downtown.

In 2009, "Detroit Renaissance" expanded its mission to address this need for regional economic development; the successor organization, "Business Leaders for Michigan," is "composed exclusively of the chairpersons, chief executives or most senior executives of the state’s largest job providers and universities" and devoted to the creation of a "Michigan turnaround plan" to rebuild the state's economy and restore it to the status of a job-provider. Key contributors to redevelopment planning include the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, the Detroit Economic Club and social groups such as the Detroit Club. Other non-profit organizations dedicated to urban development include Cityscape Detroit. Universities in the Detroit region conduct research in architecture and urban planning. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation has offices in the Cadillac Place state office complex in the city's New Center area. In recognition of the city's architecture and historic significance, the National Register of Historic Places lists many of the city's buildings and districts as historic sites which makes available federal historic tax credits for development. State tax historic tax credits are also available.

To attract residential and commercial development, planners devised a strategy of investing in the riverfront, the downtown, natural landscapes, and the east side to enhance the city's image and stimulate its economy. The plan included the addition of three casino resorts. As a result, the city is experiencing a significant increase in development. Historic structures are being refurbished into residential high rises and hotels.


Some of Detroit's successful revitalizations include the New Center, Lafayette Park, East Ferry Avenue Historic District, Campus Martius, Grand Circus Park Historic District, and Washington Boulevard Historic District. In 2002, a major renovation of the historic Cadillac Place consolidated state offices from around the area into the city's New Center area. In 2003, General Motors completed a $500 million redevelopment of the Renaissance Center as its world headquarters. The east riverfront promenade development for the Detroit International Riverfront was planned at $559 million, including $135 million from GM and $50 million from the Kresge Foundation. The city has completed major redevelopment of Campus Martius Park and Cadillac Square Park. The plans have produced new downtown stadiums and a rebuilt freeway system intended to showcase the city for Super Bowl XL. With $1.6 billion in construction projects in 2004, the rapid pace of development in the city prompted construction of a $30 million cement terminal. In 2007, Bank of America announced that it would commit $25 billion to community development in Michigan following its acquisition of LaSalle Bank in Troy.

For 2010, the domestic automakers have reported significant profits indicating the beginning of rebound. Between 2009-2010, Detroit ranked seventh in the nation for economic recovery. A study conducted in 2006 by the University of Michigan-Dearborn determined that, in addition to the roughly 18,000 employees at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, activity generated an additional 14,500 jobs in Wayne County and another 70,000 statewide , primarily through firms such as hotels, restaurants, and rental car agencies. The study made the assumption that passenger traffic through the airport and economic activity in these service industries would increase on a 1:1 ratio.

The Wayne County Airport Authority saw the potential for growth in the air transportation sector almost a decade ago and began a capital improvement plan for the airport. The three original terminals from the 1950s were replaced by two new state-of-the-art terminals that opened in 2002 and 2008, respectively. Other major infrastructure improvements have been made to the runways, cargo facilities, and the terminals themselves with an eye toward increasing the airport’s capacity. At the time, the FAA forecasted a 15.2% growth in passenger travel from 2005 to 2010, and another 12.8% increase from 2010 to 2015. It was projected that the construction projects themselves would create 4,470 jobs, with an additional 21,500 jobs statewide due to increased passenger traffic.

One major focus of the capital improvement plan was to make Detroit more prominent as an international gateway. While domestic travel began declining at the airport after 2006, total travel continued to grow for another year due to a surge in international travel, and international flights continued to increase before the recession negatively affected such flights at many airports.

Some other economic development initiatives in Detroit include the following:

  • The Detroit Office of Targeted Business Development is also working to “utilize the City’s enormous buying power to re-circulate Detroit dollars within the local economy as many times as possible and to work collaboratively with other City agencies such as the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization (ONCR), with the ultimate goal of building and sustaining both the commercial infrastructure and the residential neighborhoods, thus transforming the Next Detroit." This includes facilitating the startup and growth of Detroit-based, women-owned businesses; Detroit-based minority-owned businesses; and Detroit-based small businesses.
  • The Michigan Small Business Technology Development Center works to strengthen companies, create new jobs, retain existing jobs, and assist companies in defining their path to success.
  • The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) manages major economic development initiatives on behalf of the City of Detroit, including transforming the East Riverfront District, developing the I-94 Industrial Park, managing the Lower Woodward Improvement Program, and creating the Paradise Valley Cultural and Entertainment District. The DEGC also provides staff services to Detroit’s public development authorities.
  • The City of Detroit Downtown Development Authority supports private investments and business growth within Detroit’s central business district with loans, sponsorships and grants, capital improvements to public infrastructure, and other programs that increase economic activity.
  • The Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (DBRA) to promote revitalization of environmentally distressed and blighted areas within the boundaries of the City of Detroit. The DBRA has approved over 160 brownfield plans, which are expected create $6 billion in new investments, 13,000 jobs, and over 9,000 housing units.
  • The Economic Development Corporation of the City of Detroit assists local industrial and commercial enterprises to strengthen and revitalize the city and state economy through a loan program, public infrastructure improvements, and other programs.
  • The Office of Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization (ONCR) has created a system of support services and strategies to targeted commercial strips, incorporating technical assistance and training, grants, and loans to address local business development. Some programs from the ONCR include Re$tore Detroit, ReFresh Detroit, and Small Business Detroit! Microloan, all of which provide financial support and assistance.
  • The Michigan Works! System is the first unified workforce development system in the country and an instrumental partner for developing Michigan’s economic future. The system comprises twenty-five agencies that focus on innovative, proactive solutions to meet the demands of a rapidly changing economy.
  • John Hantz, a successful financial consultant in Detroit, is devoting $30 million of his own funding to create Hantz Farms, a commercial urban agriculture initiative. The company will be owned, operated and staffed by local residents and make use of a portion of the city's tax-delinquent land parcels.

Some experts believe that Detroit needs to utilize the region's rich automotive history to break into new industries, such as battery technology, hybrid vehicles, and the auto parts industry, along with auto assembly. Other experts believe that Detroit's geographic location next to Canada provides a unique opportunity for trade and organizational growth. For example, Detroit's Wayne State University and the University of Windsor, Canada host an annual business symposium in order to tap into this strategic advantage and expand cross-border partnerships between Detroit and the Windsor region.

Quality of life initiatives, including the revitalization of parks, residential units, new construction, and historic renovations are at the forefront of the city's plan to accelerate redevelopment across the city. For instance, in 2004, the city added hundreds of new residential units to its downtown area. From 2000 to 2007, the city saw continuous annual increases in tax revenues from its casinos with the city estimated to collect $178,250,000 in casino taxes alone for 2007, with the casino resorts opening in 2008.

Neighborhood revitalization

In April 2008, the city unveiled a $300-million stimulus plan to create jobs and revitalize neighborhoods, financed by city bonds and paid for by earmarking about 15% of the wagering tax. The city's plans for revitalization with the Next Detroit Neighborhood Initiative, a 501 (c)(3) organization, include 7-Mile/Livernois, Brightmoor, East English Village, Grand River/Greenfield, North-End, and Osborn. Private organizations have pledged substantial funding to neighborhood revitalization efforts.

A new master plan draft prepared in 2004 has the city composed of ten clusters of neighborhoods and commercial districts. The plan revealed that Detroit has many growing neighborhoods with youth population increases of greater than ten percent within each cluster, while also showing that larger youth population losses were focused in certain areas, providing support for the concept of focused redevelopment and planning. In addition to increased business investment, the city's revitalization has been focused on retaining young professionals. The Mayor has targeted two of the city's most blighted neighborhoods, Brightmoor and North End, for complete redevelopment. Grand River/Greenfield and Osbourne neighborhoods have been considered secondary priorities. The city issued a Strategic Master Plan in 2006. The city has cleared a 1,200-acre (490 ha) section of land to initiate the Far Eastside Plan for new neighborhood redevelopment. A 2009 parcel survey found 93 percent of the city's occupied housing to be in good condition, with 97 percent in good or fair condition. The survey found 33,527 or 10% of the city's housing to be unoccupied, but recommended that only one percent or 3,480 of the city's housing units needed to be demolished. About 3,000 of these residential structures were cleared away in 2010.

Immigrants have successfully contributed to the city's neighborhood revitalization, especially in southwest Detroit. Southwest Detroit has experienced a thriving economy in recent years, as evidenced by new housing, increased business openings and the recently opened Mexicantown International Welcome Center.

Lafayette Park is a revitalized neighorhood on the city's east side, part of the Mies van der Rohe Residential District listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The 78-acre (32 ha) urban renewal project was originally called the Gratiot Park Development. Planned by Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig Hilberseimer and Alfred Caldwell it includes a landscaped, 19-acre (7.7 ha) park with no through traffic, in which these and other low-rise apartment buildings are situated. Churches, schools, parks, theaters, and retail have helped to anchor neighborhoods in the city.

Old buildings in the city are being transformed into lofts, condominiums, and luxury high rise residential units at an accelerated pace along with new Formstone and brick rowhouses construction.

  • Brownstones on John R., luxury brownstones (2007)
  • Carlton luxury condominiums ( 2007)
  • 1001 Covington, luxury condominiums (2007)
  • The Elmore, converting to luxury condominiums (2007)
  • FD Lofts and New Central Yard in the Eastern Market area and Regina Condominiums in Brush Park.
  • The Grisswold-Capitol Park, luxury condominiums (2007), delayed until further notice
  • Hilton Fort Shelby, upper hotel rentals (2008).
  • The Park Shelton, luxury lofts/condominiums (2006)
  • Riverfront Towers, luxury condominiums (2005).
  • Garden Lofts at Woodward Place, luxury condominiums (2008)
  • St. Anne's Gate of Detroit, townhouses (2007).
  • English Village, townhouses (2007)
  • Edmond Place, refurbished Victorian mansions (2007)
  • Ferry Street East Townhouses (2007)
  • Garden Court condominiums (2007)
  • Green Acres Brownstones, luxury brownstones (2007)
  • HarborTown, luxury condominiums (2007)
  • Heritage at Riverbend, townhouses (2007)
  • Jefferson Village, single family homes (2007)
  • 1300 E. Lafayette, condominiums (2007)
  • Nine On Third, luxury condominiums (2007)
  • Lofts at New Center, townhouses (2007).
  • Ren Shores, lLuxury Condominiums (2009)
  • Research Lofts on Trumbull Ave., loft condominiums (2007)
  • Rock Custom Homes, single family homes (2008)
  • ShorePoint Village, luxury detached condominiums (2007)
  • Watermark Detroit, luxury condominiums (2009)
  • Westin Book-Cadillac, upper hotel luxury condominiums (2008)
  • Wood Bridge Estates, master plan community (2006)
  • 1001 Woodward, luxury condominiums (2007)
  • Woodward Place in Brush Park, townhouses (2007)

Many more projects are in the process of planning/rendering and this is all helping bring back more residents to the downtown area.

Index of neighborhoods

Significant renovations are owned by luxury hotel developers downtown such as Hilton, Westin, Double Tree, and Four Seasons. Some buildings are being redeveloped into high-rise condominiums and residential lofts. These projects are attracting new investment in corporate headquarters, offices, and retail. Some significant renovations include:

The city has demolished many unused buildings in order to make way for new development. Significant vacant buildings include: