Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroit Policy Conference > Panel: Attracting Residents, Visitors, and Tenants Through Amenities and Policies

Panel: Attracting Residents, Visitors, and Tenants Through Amenities and Policies

January 11, 2023

During the 2023 Detroit Policy Conference, Dennis W. Archer Jr., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of sixteen42 ventures, took the stage to moderate a panel discussion with “gamechangers [who] help Detroit grow and prosper” to discuss developing downtown Detroit for the future. The panel included: 

  • Kofi Bonner, Chief Executive Officer, Bedrock LLC 
  • Larry Brinker Jr., Chief Executive Officer, Brinker Group 
  • Christopher Jackson, Principal, Queen Lilian 

Current Development Projects in Detroit 

Brinker is a second-generation entrepreneur who has been building a legacy by expanding his father’s construction company, Brinker Group, to include real estate development. This expansion not only further grows Brinker Group’s status as one of Detroit’s largest construction companies, but it also provides more opportunities to change lives in the region. A great example of this is the redevelopment of the United Artists Building to 148 new apartments, which will offer families in the city of Detroit affordable housing options.   

“It’s really exciting to be able to take what he’s built, to continue to professionalize it, and leave that legacy for our family,” said Brinker. “Even as it relates to construction of what we do, the most amazing thing is to be able to walk around the city and see buildings that will be here for the next 100 years that our great-great-grandkids can talk about and feel a part of the community based on what we’ve done.” 

Another example of lives being changed in the region through development is what Jackson deems a “heartfelt” project: Queen Lilian’s development of a 204 unit mixed-used building on Woodward in Midtown, previously known as Cass Corridor. Prior to the developer’s acquisition of the building 10 years ago, it was abandoned for over 35 years, back when Jackson said he was a student at Cass Tech. 

“We worked very diligently to try to bring something to that site. All [of] that was pre-Little Caesar’s Arena, pre-the M1 Rail, pre-the Mike Ilitch School of Business and Boston Consulting – none of that had been developed there on that west side of Woodward when we had first acquired the site, but we’ve had some vision there,” said Jackson. “We knew the energy – it was coming. And we may be sort of now the most recent development there after all those others, but I think our vision is what fed those other developments to say, ‘yes, there is something valuable here.’” 

The types of projects Brinker and Jackson shared are what Bonner cited when sharing why he decided to move to Detroit. Prior to moving here, his only memory of the city was from 1998 to 2005, when he occasionally visited through his job with the Cleveland Browns. He was not convinced about returning to the area until he saw the city’s transformation and spoke with Rocket Companies’ Dan Gilbert. 

“Dan said something very simple. I asked him, ‘what do you want from this, what do you want from Bedrock?’ He looked at me and he said, ‘I want to return Detroit to its rightful place as a 21st century world-class city.’ He wasn’t talking about, ‘I want to grow my portfolio, grow the bottom line.’ He was talking about a mission that spoke straight to my heart,” said Bonner. 

 Attracting Tenants Downtown Through Amenities 

While developing in the city of Detroit offers a chance to positively impact those who live there, the question remains about how to continue attracting visitors and businesses in a post-pandemic era, particularly hospitality and retail tenants.  

Bonner emphasized that the way we attract people has changed over the last two and a half years, citing a “structural shift” in the way downtown areas are being developed. 

 “The pandemic did so many things – certainly it devasted downtowns. It accelerated this movement towards remote work. It’s changed the way the supply chain system works, which we have experienced in the construction business. Many of the buildings that we’re currently building, are being completed today, were started in a different marketplace and a different economy,” said Bonner. “We have to think differently about how we move forward in downtowns.” 

Despite this structural shift, Bonner shared that downtowns are still very important to metropolitan areas, and we have to figure out new ways to attract people. Three of his suggestions include: 

  1. Ensuring offices are “highly amenitized” so workers do not feel like they’re glued to a screen when in the office. 
  2. Ensuring that downtown public spaces “are full of activity, exciting, and amenitized” so people want to frequent more often. 
  3. Ensuring that downtown is “seen as a place for everyone.” 

Something that was not on Bonners list of suggestions but an effort he applauded for driving traffic downtown is the changing perception others have of the area, especially national retailers and luxury brands that hadn’t previously considered Detroit.  

In addition to putting in effort to draw workers and visitors back downtown through developments, Jackson also stressed the need to put in effort to draw entrepreneurs downtown as well – something that could be done through policy. 

“One of the things we’ve noticed is there’s so much attention on incentivizing developers for affordable housing, for instance. We need that same level of attention as relates to that emerging entrepreneur,” said Jackson. “If I had the incentives that I have as relates to the residential component of my development to attract the emerging entrepreneur, then I could give them lower rent.” 

For retail space today, Jackson shared it can cost $30 to $40 per square foot for a retail space, which an emerging entrepreneur typically cannot afford. 

“We want to make sure just as we have the national chain restaurants or national chain stores, we [can] have these emerging entrepreneurs be on that same playing field,” said Jackson. “You can only do so much of that without maybe more partnership with government.” 

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