Detroit Shows Real Estate Investor its Art is in Right Place

Posted on May 3, 2011

Detroit boosters this week are giving a red-carpet tour of the city to the real estate mogul who played a key role in transforming Florida’s South Beach and New York’s SoHo areas into global destinations, trying to persuade him to invest here.

Tony Goldman, chairman and CEO of the Goldman Properties Company in New York, arrived Monday for a two-day tour of such locations as the abandoned Michigan Central Depot, the Cass Corridor, the Brother Nature Produce urban farm and the famed Heidelberg Project art installation.

Detroit officials would like him to invest in the city’s art, architecture and grittiness much as he did in New York City and Miami’s formerly dilapidated areas. It is Goldman’s first trip to Detroit.

On Monday night, Goldman was expected to have dinner with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and a handful of community activists such as Phillip Cooley, the entrepreneur behind Slows Bar BQ in Corktown.

Tonight, Goldman is scheduled to join Knight Foundation vice president of arts Dennis Scholl, a former developer and longtime friend, in a public discussion at an Eastern Market warehouse about how Detroit can revive itself.

He also is expected to meet with officials from the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.

“It makes me angry, and it’s inspiring at the same time,” Goldman, 67, said Monday afternoon, as he arrived at Eastern Market with a Miami film crew.

“What’s inspiring — it’s the sense of fabric in these buildings I’ve seen already and the number of people really trying to do things here already,” he said. “Something organic seems to be happening already.”

“What makes me angry is that big, empty building,” Goldman said, referring to the former train station.

His multifaceted approach to community revitalization — preserving historic architecture, establishing local community organizations and business improvement districts, and rebranding neighborhoods — has served as a model for other urban entrepreneurs.

Goldman last year received the highest preservation award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for his work.

In 1977, Goldman bought 18 buildings in New York’s SoHo area when it was so sketchy that no banks would finance them, according to the developer and news accounts.

He did the same thing in 1985 when he bought 18 Art Deco buildings in South Beach when it was considered too risky to invest.

Goldman also invested in Philadelphia’s Center City and helped revive it.

“I don’t go by negativity; I go by what I feel. Is there something to preserve, a continuity of architecture? Is there a strong community? I understand that is what may be happening in Detroit,” Goldman said.

“I’m here to listen, but I’m open to anything,” he said, and that includes investing.

The Knight Foundation’s Scholl said Goldman would “at least find Detroit interesting.” Scholl also was an early investor in South Beach.

“To me, the 40 square miles of vacant property (in Detroit) can be an incredible opportunity. What other city can say that? And I think that will be one of the things that will spark Tony,” Scholl said, though he added he isn’t predicting whether Goldman will invest.

“Tony is one of those guys who understands art is a key component to revitalizing an area,” Scholl said. “Detroit has that going for it right now.”

By Louis Aguilar, Detroit News