By Ian Thibodeau
June 2, 2016
Quicken Loans founder and Detroit real estate mogul Dan Gilbert encouraged the state to “start thinking big in (Detroit)” while speaking at the Mackinac Policy Conference on Wednesday.
“It could be a very, very special place,” he said.
Speaking for the first time at the Mackinac Policy Conference, Gilbert addressed a crowd after screening a Bedrock Detroit video featuring the city’s brightest spots, narrated by Detroit rapper Big Sean:
Since moving Quicken Loans into the city six years ago, Gilbert has purchased over 90 properties in downtown Detroit and in Cleveland, Ohio.
In Detroit, he has around 14 million square feet of real estate in his collection, held by his real estate firm Bedrock Detroit. His companies under the Rock Ventures umbrella employ over 15,000 people, most working in downtown Detroit.
He said Wednesday that his companies will employ 1,300 interns this summer. More than 20,000 people applied for a spot, he said.
Young people are simply drawn to the city, he said.
“They all want to come to Detroit,” Gilbert said. “… There’s nobody who gets here and isn’t … seduced by Detroit.”
There’s a feeling that it’s easy to be a part of something bigger in Detroit, Gilbert said, and that’s alluring to young people.
“They believe they can impact things from Day One,” he said “You can go to Chicago. You can go to New York. You can go to these places (and) you’ll do well, because you’re smart and you’re coming from a good university … What you can’t do over there is impact the community, impact the city, from Day One.
“That becomes a sell.”
Dennis Archer, Jr., chair of the 2016 Mackinac Policy Conference, interviewed Gilbert. The two talked about Archer’s restaurant, Central Kitchen and Bar, which occupies retail space in a Gilbert building downtown, and the number of buildings Gilbert owns in the greater downtown area.
But Archer also tried to get Gilbert talking a bit about the future.
“We’ve got to start thinking big in this city,” Gilbert said.
If business in the city continues to grow at the rate it is now — and Gilbert predicts it’s actually going to pick up the pace — downtown Detroit will be 10,000-square-feet short on office space in 10 years.
The city needs construction cranes poking into the sky, Gilbert said.
Big time construction can happen in the city, and the industry that will support it all, according to Gilbert, is the technology industry.
“(We) can’t invest enough in technology,” he said.
That doesn’t mean he wants Detroit to become Silicon Valley. The city can maintain a unique identity while capitalizing on what Gilbert said is a growing industry.
When asked why he decided to invest more than $2.2 billion in Detroit real estate, Gilbert’s answer was simple.
“Anybody who dies with money in the bank is a failure,” he said. “If you were blessed with a fortunate position … why wouldn’t you want to impact the world around you as much as possible?”
Gilbert wasn’t asked about his future plans for the city, and remained vague on ideas as to what specific steps need to be taken to continue to boost the city.
He did say, overall, “people are more optimistic about Detroit outside of Detroit.”
The city needs optimism and hope from young people inside and outside of the city continues to trend upward, he said.
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