Detroit has revitalised its downtown area with an ambitious partnership to improve public space, attract businesses and better the lives of local residents. The Downtown Detroit Partnership – between the city, NGOs, philanthropists, multinationals and startups – has landscaped parks, developed housing, built infrastructure such as street lighting and bike lanes, and created accelerator schemes for local businesses. In the last five years, 18,000 jobs have been created in the downtown Detroit area.
Results & Impact
In the past five years, seven public spaces covering over 400,000 square feet have been rejuvenated and 18,000 jobs have been created in Detroit’s downtown area. As a result, vacant commercial occupancy decreased by 14%. Major companies, including Twitter, are opening up offices in refurbished historic buildings. Between them, the new public spaces host around 1,600 events and attract two million visitors a year.
City of Detroit, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, LIVE Detroit, Build Institute, MoGo Detroit Bike Share, Detroit Experience Factory
The Downtown Detroit Partnership convenes local business, multinationals, governments, philanthropic organisations and NGOs. Together with the city, it sets the public space strategy. Its funding model is threefold, involving corporate sponsorship, earned revenues from, for example, restaurants and food trucks, and contributions from businesses in the Business Improvement Zone. Those contributions are calculated according to a specially designed assessment of their occupancy in the downtown areas. The rate is capped at $150,000 for any parcel of land.
General public, city dwellers
Cost & Value
In 10 years the project has invested about $9 billion in real estate, while the Business Improvement Zone has an annual budget of $4 million.
Running since 2005
Detroit is revitalising its downtown area, attracting investment and improving the lives of ordinary residents by bringing partners together around an ambitious local vision.
The Downtown Detroit Partnership pulls together businesses, philanthropic organisations, charities and government agencies on small, focused projects to revitalise Detroit’s downtown. They’ve developed housing, public space and infrastructure to transform the downtown area into an appealing and encouraging place to do business while improving life for its residents and attracting more to the city centre.
A centrepiece of the partnership program is a designated Business Improvement Zone, which has used low-level interventions to turn the city into a more attractive prospect for companies. Initiatives include street lighting, park landscaping and increased security and safety measures.
With the help of the program, the past five years have seen 18,000 jobs created in Detroit’s downtown area, thanks to companies such as Rock Venture, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and DTE Energy. Vacant commercial occupancy also decreased by 14%.
To complement the Business Improvement Zone program, DDP has further invested in programs that encourage entrepreneurship and small businesses in the downtown area. Its major partner here is the Build Institute, a resource hub for business. Since 2013, Build has raised $57,450 in micro-loans, endorsing 15 small businesses and producing more than 700 graduates from their courses on entrepreneurship. The repayment rate on loans among graduates, of whom 60% are from minority populations, is near 100%, and the program has included participants from all over Detroit.
The most visible component of the program is perhaps the Downtown Ambassadors scheme. Ambassadors employed by the city are now stationed across the downtown area in distinctive t-shirts, answering queries from the public, providing assistance and ensuring the streets are clean. The program employs 150 people in the summer and 50 in the winter, most of whom have found it difficult to find jobs in the past. A neighbourhood watch program, Project Lighthouse, has also contributed to a significant drop in crime, including a 35% decline in stolen vehicles.
Funding for the Business Improvement Zone is paid by contributions from businesses, which are calculated according to a specially designed assessment based on their occupancy of land in the downtown area. The rate is capped at $150,000 for any parcel of land.
Just as the Business Improvement Zone seeks to attract businesses to Detroit, similar measures are creating better living conditions for residents. Since the project’s launch in 2014, bike lanes have been introduced, sidewalks broadened and outdoor seating areas installed. A 3,000-person housing project is scheduled to surround one of the city’s main parks, and two million visitors came to the newly renovated green areas during 2015.
To date, the partnership has revived seven public spaces, covering over 400,000 square feet of downtown Detroit. The spaces include parks, plazas and an esplanade, which throughout the year host on average 1,600 events.
Anyone can apply to host an event in these public spaces, and the partnership responds depending on whether it’s in line with the spirit of their venture. They are also in close contact with local artists and commission them to contribute to these spaces; Beacon Park, the most recently renovated public space, showcases Detroit’s contemporary art.
The partnership measures the success of their public spaces through a range of outcomes, both quantitative and qualitative: for example, staff coordinators are on-site with hand counters, and surveys are conducted. It’s important that they can demonstrate impact to their sponsors.
Altogether, the DPP’s funding model is diverse. There is corporate sponsorship, and the aforementioned special assessment tax in the Business Improvement Zone. Aside from that, though, there is a dynamic earned revenue model that is centred on their public spaces: they have an ice rink, as well as restaurants and food trucks, to name just a few examples.
Since the partnership is a non-profit, by diversifying their funding model they are ensuring it is sustainable – and less subject to the mood of the markets than Detroit has been in the past.
(Picture credit: Downtown Detroit Partnership)