In Detroit, urban living is on the rise
BY RACHEL ZYNEL
OU News Bureau
Some people say it’s good time to invest in the city of Detroit.
One of those is Jim Pellerito, owner of Pellerito Foods. With thousands of dollars invested in what he calls his new “hobby” — E&B Brewery Lofts, a housing development — he’s not just saying it, he’s doing it. And while he agreed it’s an expensive hobby, his passion for the city has led him to pursue it.
Bordering Eastern Market, E&B is home to 15 tenants and will have room for 32 lofts when completed. Pellerito said he has 50 people waiting to fill them. E&B resides in the former Eckhardt & Becker Brewery, a microbrewery that operated from 1891 to 1962.
For a city plagued with a dwindling population, Pellerito’s lofts are filling an unexpected need — housing shortages. According to the 2010 census, Detroit’s population decreased by 25 percent to 713,777 between 2000 and 2010.
That number is a far cry from the 1950s when Detroit’s population, driven by the success of the thriving auto industry, peaked at 1.85 million. A decade later, this same industry would fuel the growth of Michigan’s highway system.
Suburbs grew with these highways. Tens of thousands of Detroiters moved to places such as Warren and Livonia in the 1960s and ’70s. The riot of 1967 helped fuel white flight.
Detroit’s fortunes waned through the 1970s and ’80s with competition from foreign automakers and a nationwide recession. More people left the city and crime grew. Detroit saw some of its largest population losses in the 1990s and 2000s before the near collapse of the auto industry in 2008.
The result has left Detroit with tens of thousands of abandoned homes, an unemployment rate that has climbed as high as 22 percent and urban decay.
The city is fighting back
With housing prices their lowest in more than 10 years, a new trend has taken root downtown where urban living is on the rise.
In a study for CEOs for Cities, Portland-based consulting firm Impresa found that downtown Detroit saw a 59 percent increase in the number of college-educated residents under the age of 35 from 2005-09.
The Live Downtown program has contributed to this number. As part of the program, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Compuware, DTE Energy, Quicken Loans and Strategic Staffing Solutions are encouraging their staffs to relocate to the city by financially motivating them with incentives. Workers can move to neighborhoods such as Corktown, Downtown, Eastern Market, Lafayette Park, Midtown and Woodbridge.
Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert has been one of the biggest proponents of this movement. Along with Live Downtown, he has bought property to renovate, refinish and revitalize Detroit.
“One of the things people don’t realize about Detroit is that a lot of young people are moving back to downtown, but the inventory is very, very low,” Gilbert said in an interview with The Atlantic Cities. “Occupancy is at about 98 percent. You can’t find a lot of lofts and apartments and places to live in, so there’s a huge opportunity for real estate developers to actually build residential because there’s just not the inventory.”
“And we’re going to continue to move more down here and bring in more businesses and do everything we can … and try to make Detroit the comeback city of this decade,” he said.
According to Gilbert, a city’s atmosphere depends on how livable it is. He wants to bring more of his employees and more business. Gilbert moved Quicken Loans to Detroit’s Compuware building on Campus Martius in 2010, prompting thousands of workers to relocate to the city.
“The feel is just incredible,” he said in an interview with radio station WJR. “There’s a certain buzz and energy you just don’t get unless you’re in a downtown area.”
As part of this immigration back to downtown, Detroit has cashed in on its affordability. Forbes Magazine recently ranked the city third on its list of the 15 most affordable urban cities attracting many new residents.
Detroit also extends its appeal to the steadily employed, Forbes found. Workers with a college degree are making a median salary of $60,000. Pair that with the median asking price of homes in Detroit — $132,635 — and the appeal grows.
City backers also point to many improvements downtown, among them: a revitalized waterfront, the city’s baseball and football teams and the renovated Fox Theater.
Clare Sawicki, 23, moved downtown five years ago for school. After graduating from Wayne State University, the allure of the city and the price kept her here. She said it was one of her best choices.
“I’m dragging my feet to do anything else with my life because I don’t want to give up my apartment,” Sawicki said.
Detroit’s key is that it’s “really accessible,” she said. Living within walking distance of the art, science and historical museums, plus the library, coffee shops and bars has her utilizing her city.
“There’s been a clear shift in the five years since I’ve been living down here,” she said.
“When I first moved down here, there didn’t seem to be many people going out,” she continued. “In the past two years, the bars went from five people to being packed … everything’s clearly becoming more popular, more populated.”
Pellerito, the developer, said he believes it’s the people moving down here, those bold enough to do what others won’t, that bring about this change. He said people who want to be where the action is, who don’t want to sit back in the suburbs, are today’s movers and shakers. For a slideshow of E&B lofts, click here.
“I do see a lot of good things happening,” Pellerito said. “Every city has its problems. This city has lots of good assets. I think things will come around. With so much potential here, there’s no way but up.”
“Down here,” he said. “We’ve got the real deal.”
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