Detroit’s pockets of promise: news from Corktown & Downtown

Having spent the past couple of weeks wallowing in cynicism and negativity on this blog, I thought it was long overdue to highlight the many recent developments worthy of celebration in the city of Detroit.

Here are just a few:

Those Corktowners are persistent.  Mercury Coffee Bar didn’t make it, but a couple of their former employees are trying again.  What’s impressive is how much mutual support seems to exist among businesses on this stretch of Michigan Avenue:

If all goes well, the coffee shop, just a few doors from the popular Slows Bar B Q, will be followed by seven other bars and restaurants slated to open between Sixth and 14th streets. They include a cocktail bar, burger joint and a coney island, and they’re all receiving support from the neighborhood and nearby businesses…

Astro, for example, salvaged wood for its interior from the corner pawn shop, and Phil Cooley, a Slows owner, helped with interior construction.

Landlord O’Connor Real Estate contributed by bringing the building up to standard codes, an often expensive proposition for new businesses.

Meanwhile, downtown seems to have become Dan Gilbert’s pet project.  Like the Ilitch family, he’s gone on a buying spree, but unlike the Ilitches he actually seems to be using most of his real estate acquisitions downtown for something besides parking.  A relocation incentive for Gilbert’s Quicken employees to move downtown, similar to the Live Midtown program, is in the works.

Downtown is also benefiting from Blue Cross Blue Shield’s decision to move its Southfield workforce there:

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has reached the halfway point of transferring 3,000 workers to downtown Detroit…(putting) the company on track to complete its goal of having 6,000 employees on its new downtown campus.

Since announcing the move nearly a year ago, BCBSM’s Detroit workforce has grown to more than 5,000.

Occupancy at the RenCen’s Tower 500 has gone from completely vacant to completely full.

And apparently the hotel market has recovered enough that investors are working to rehab the empty Whitney Building and convert it into a boutique hotel:

Metro Detroit’s hotels had their busiest May in more than a decade with an occupancy rate of 61.4 percent, according to STR. The last time May’s occupancy rate was higher was in the dot.com boom days of 2000, when it hit 68 percent, according to STR.

The region’s occupancy rate averaged 55.8 percent through the first five months of the year, the best showing in four years.

Lastly, I recently discovered Detroit LISC’s blog.  I was impressed with their post about “The importance of neighborhood marketing,” so much so that I thought it worthwhile to share the following lengthy excerpt.  LISC Communications Program Officer Ulises Silva describes a panel discussion he attended in May, and some strategies for successfully showcasing what’s best about your neighborhood :

The panelists at the symposium discussed the importance of building “neighborhood confidence,” and of the things neighborhoods and supporting CDCs can start doing in order to generate some positive buzz about Detroit neighborhoods. This can be through social media, traditional print publications, or any other grassroots marketing campaign that aims to attract residents.

Here are some of their suggestions.

“Maximize what’s hot.” Even if a neighborhood is in transition, emphasize the things that arehappening. Whether it’s a new storefront, community art, or a rehabbed home, emphasize the positive elements.
Emphasize the “lifestyle opportunities.” Is there something about your neighborhood that might appeal to different segments of the population? Are your streets bike-friendly? Are there eclectic hangout spots that artists might dig? Are there parks nearby that families might enjoy? Then mention those.
Testimonials matter! One panelist gave this great example: if we see a dingy, scary-looking restaurant, we probably wouldn’t want to go in. But if we read stirring testimonials about its great food, then we would probably give it a try. It’s the same with neighborhood marketing. Make sure to get the positive stories out so that prospective residents knows there’s more to your neighborhood than the occasional foreclosed home. Think of it as Yelping for your community!
Ask prospective residents about what they like and don’t like about your neighborhood…Take the time to talk to people. Their insights might prove more helpful than any faceless market research study in attracting new residents.
…BUT make sure you understand what they mean! One panelist offered another great example: when prospective residents were asked why they wouldn’t move into a neighborhood, “safety” was a common response. Everyone assumed they meant crime; in fact, they were referring to the area’s speed limits, and how unsafe they would be for children playing in the streets…  Don’t make assumptions about why people won’t move into your neighborhoods.
…(W)hile each city and each neighborhood will require different approaches to the same problem, one thing we all need is some creativity. Because it’ll take some creative thought to not only create grassroots marketing campaigns, but to fund them—or make them happen with little or no money. Thankfully, social media is the great equalizer in modern-day marketing: it’s vital, expansive, and free! If you’re a CDC or a neighborhood organization, make sure you’re on Facebook…

One panelist said it best: “The only thing that won’t work is doing nothing.”

You can like Detroit LISC on Facebook.

In other news:  We had a nice turnout of about seven people at our first ever Ann Arbor Blogger Meet-Up last Friday at the Heidelberg.  Bloggers from Damn Arbor, Michigan Exposures, and Great Lakes Guru joined us for lots of tasty and affordable German beer, and equally scintillating conversation.  Those who missed it, take heart:  we hope to repeat the experience this fall.

I’ve been very remiss in blogging recently, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.  Expect very light posting next week, when I’m on vacation, and the week after, when I’ll be playing catch-up at work.

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2 responses to “Detroit’s pockets of promise: news from Corktown & Downtown

  1. It was nice to meet you on Friday. The beer was good and I hope to meet you guys again in the future.

  2. Pingback: A weekend in Chicago | Motown To Tree Town

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