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Projects to Watch: Transformational Projects and More

By John Gallagher

Detroit’s skyline hasn’t seen any big new additions for a generation. That’s about to change.

Several transformational projects are in the works that will add significant new structures to Detroit’s landscape. These projects will create new jobs, add new retail and recreational venues, and imprint new postcard images of Detroit on our imagination. Detroit has not seen such a collection of major new skyline projects in half a century.

After a quarter-century of planning and debate, construction on the Gordie Howe International Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit got underway in 2018. By May, structures were rising to form the towering supports for the massive cable-stayed bridge. Built at a cost of more than $5 billion, the work will include expansive new custom plazas in both Detroit and Windsor and new highway ramps to nearby expressways on the Detroit end. When opened in a few years to car and truck traffic (and, yes, bicycles, too!), the six-lane, 1.5-mile bridge will facilitate the trade so crucial to the economies of both the United States and Canada.


Speaking of towering new presences, the Hudson’s site project being built by businessman Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock real estate arm promises to create just that in the heart of downtown Detroit. The project is now under construction. When finished around 2024, the more than $900-million complex is slated to include a 200-plus room hotel, some 150 residences, 400,000 square feet of office space, 18,000 square feet of retail space, and a 1,200-seat event space.



Gilbert’s Bedrock is also shepherding the new Wayne County Criminal Justice Center to completion east of I-75 and north of Warren in Detroit’s Midtown district. A replacement for the sprawling collection of jail and courtroom facilities long operating on downtown’s east side, the 11-acre project entails a 2,280-bed jail, 25 courtrooms and offices for judges, five hearing rooms, offices for the Wayne County sheriff and prosecutor, as well as a 160-bed juvenile detention facility. It is scheduled to open next year.


As part of the complex jail deal, Bedrock has the right to redevelop the former jail and courthouse sites downtown. One of those projects will be the Detroit Center for Innovation being planned by Gilbert and businessman Stephen M. Ross in partnership with the University of Michigan. Announced in 2019, the futuristic center will rise on several acres off Gratiot where Wayne County had once started to build its new jail before scrapping those plans as part of the new criminal justice complex in Midtown. The $300-million, 190,000-square-foot UM center will host graduate studies across multiple technology fields.


Downtown isn’t the only site to see major new construction. Amazon is already taking job applications for jobs at its new $400-million, 3.8-million square foot distribution center at the old Michigan State Fairgrounds site. Announcing the project last August, Mayor Mike Duggan said the distribution center will create some 1,200 jobs. The center is one of several that Amazon is building around Southeast Michigan, and the first in Detroit, to fulfill the public’s demand for online shopping.



Massive structures aren’t the only transformational projects in the works. The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy in May broke ground on the final eastside piece of the Detroit RiverWalk, a segment that will cross the once-barren Uniroyal site between Mt. Elliott Park and the MacArthur Bridge. When finished, the link will allow RiverWalk users to go from downtown Detroit to Belle Isle along the waterfront promenade.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Department of Transportation plans to raise the sunken I-375 expressway back to grade level and turn it back into a surface street, a nod to modern ideas of walkable urbanism.


Finally, work is getting underway on the Joe Louis Greenway, a bike-and-pedestrian path that will loop around downtown Detroit.

That’s quite a menu of projects sure to redefine the skyline.

John Gallagher is a freelance writer and author in Detroit, and formerly of the Detroit Free Press.