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The District Detroit

Olympia’s sports and entertainment district a game-changer

Page 14

Detroiter Magazine Q&A with Steve Marquardt, Vice President of Olympia Development of Michigan
(Editor’s note: A truncated version of this Q & A appeared in the print edition)

1. The District Detroit is being referred to as a catalyst project. What does that mean?

Our organization has been committed to this city for more than 50 years and we’re proud to be a part of Detroit’s amazing comeback story. Catalyst project refers to the fact that The District Detroit is transforming places and people’s lives. We are redeveloping 50 underutilized blocks surrounding the new Detroit Events Center into restaurants, shops, offices and residential spaces where people can live, work and play. The goal is to create a contiguous, walkable area between Midtown and Downtown where families, sports fans, entrepreneurs, entertainment lovers and others who crave a vibrant urban setting can connect with each other and the city they love.

We’re already seeing the transformational impact of this project, not just in the physical transformation but also the people we’re employing through the Detroit and Michigan-based companies we’re hiring. We’ve awarded well over $200 million in contracts to companies based in Detroit and Michigan and created thousands of jobs.

Further, construction of the Detroit Events Center and surrounding area is expected to generate at least $2.1 billion in total economic impact, 12,500 construction and construction-related jobs and 1,100 permanent jobs. More than $100 million in income from the events center project alone is expected for Detroit residents, with significant additional income to be created through future private development.

2. How do you go about integrating something as large as a world-class professional sports arena into the surrounding area?

We’ve worked very hard to create a neighborhood-friendly design for the new arena. Our goal is to be a part of the neighborhood, which is one of the main reasons we excavated 250 truckloads of earth for nearly four months to build the arena’s event level nearly 40 feet below grade. It will be an open and accessible place that fits in with the size, scope and look of the surrounding community – full of exciting places to eat, drink, shop and play on game days and on any day. Portions of the arena will house a mix of restaurants and shops on the first floor which will be open for business regularly. The arena’s innovative “de-constructed” design and community gathering spaces such as the Piazza and the Via will create an open, accessible and exciting destination – for fans and the community.

3. Detroit’s a city with a great architectural legacy. How will this project add to the city’s architectural flare?

Take a look at the Fox Theatre or Comerica Park and you’ll get a sense of our organization’s focus on building and restoring in ways that complement a community. That’s our commitment and vision. We’re working with experts to both rehab older structures like the Eddystone Hotel and to construct new buildings, from the new Little Caesar Global Resource Center in the Columbia Street neighborhood, to the new arena and mixed-use buildings in the Woodward Square neighborhood, which are being carefully designed to respect and reflect surrounding architecture.

4. People are fascinated by this project, what has been the reaction to the live webcam?

You’re right, people are fascinated with large construction sites like this. Our webcam (available at is a great resource for anyone who wants to see the new arena come to life. It shows work ranging from new building construction along Woodward Avenue and along Henry Street, as well as the steel being erected for the new arena. Soon, roof trusses will be put in place and that will surely be highly visual.

5. There’s so much to this project, it’s really a game-changer in development and revitalization, what stands out to you?

We’re knitting together amazing existing sports and entertainment venues and also transforming a large, underutilized area into one of the most exciting and vibrant urban areas in the country. National experts have said The District Detroit is the most ambitious project of its kind. The combination of current destinations and future development make The District Detroit truly unique. We are fortunate to have Wayne State University, DTE, Detroit Medical Center, a robust Downtown, Midtown, Ford Field, Comerica Park, the new arena and many others sites which are driving revitalization in and around our development area. The District Detroit will be a major addition to the city’s impressive momentum.

6. What is being done to ensure this is an inclusive effort?

The District Detroit will be a place for everyone. We’re passionate about working with local entrepreneurs and businesses. From the start, we’ve ensured that Detroit businesses are participating in building The District Detroit. Approximately 65 percent of the dollar value, more than $200 million worth, of all contracts on the Detroit Events Center’s construction so far have gone to Detroit-based or –headquartered businesses. We’ve accomplished that through a significant commitment to a unique program that has included numerous outreach events. And a majority of workers on the site have been Detroiters. Local businesses – from restaurants to bars to start-ups to artists – will be key to The District Detroit’s authentic appeal and part of what drives our desire for inclusivity.

7. This project has rightly garnered attention from the get-go and every step is big news. When it is completed, what about this project do you think will surprise people?

The District Detroit will be one of the only places in the country with such an impressive mix of professional sports and world-class entertainment venues in such close proximity to each other, walking distance really, and an exciting mix of places to live, work, eat and have fun. And to be in the heart of the city of Detroit – one of the greatest cities in the world, makes The District Detroit a place unlike any other. Think about it – where else can one go to a hockey game, baseball game and football game in one day in one neighborhood? I think the richness of the history of the area, the world-class venues, and the authenticity of Detroit, combined with stunning architecture, will impress people.

8. When it’s all said and done, what additional development would you like to see around The District?

There’s a reason people call The District Detroit a catalyst project. The 50 blocks we’re developing will connect communities and bring new energy to this important area between Midtown and Downtown, which, and it is our hope, will spark more development that reaches into more of our city’s neighborhoods.