Detroit to become Paris of the Midwest?

Posted on April 3, 2013

Thursday in Motown, promising a main drag awash in ice cream stands, ground-floor retail, pedestrian walkways and esplanades, and a smorgasbord of other “placemaking” initiatives he said will make Motown your town and my town.

What’s more, one Windsor civic leader was inspired to have Windsor follow in the same chic vein.

“I want most of those ideas to happen in Windsor,” said Larry Horwitz, chair of the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association, who attended the presentation for media and 400 invited business and civic leaders. “What they’re doing is revolutionary. They’re transforming a city.”

Horwitz said he would like to make downtown Windsor pedestrian-friendly, creating an esplanade from Wyandotte to the Detroit River, and putting out such things as umbrellas and lounge chairs for people to enjoy the city centre in style.

“It could work in Windsor,” Horwitz said. “And it’s already working in Detroit.”

“We have no Plan B,” Gilbert said, since having one might distract from the ambitious Plan A. “So we’re all in.”

Gilbert, whose company has been buying up buildings in Detroit such as One Woodward Avenue, outlined his and fellow entreprenneurs’ efforts to transform the struggling city. There is, for example, an $82 million construction project started on the stately David Whitney Building. The Wright Kay Building is also undergoing a transformation.

Furthermore, Gilbert said he and his partners have bought the Vinton Building at 600 Woodward, an empty office tower designed by architect Albert Kahn. He sees that space as a boutique hotel or mixed residential building.

Gilbert’s team has even included the iconic former Hudson’s store in their plans. On Thursday, they launched a design competition to see who can come up with the best plan for the former Woodward Avenue retail giant.

“It’s great now but it could be spectacular,” said Gilbert, whose Quicken Loans has brought 7,600 employees to downtown Detroit. “I can’t stress enough how exciting this is.”

The plan features some ideas and proposals, but also a lot of initiatives that are already funded and slated to go, to be finished by 2016 or sooner. And it includes sprucing up green space as well, such as Grand Circus Park, Capital Park and the Library District. Hart Plaza will be redesigned to offer more grass and more style. And the Motown boosters are even floating the idea of raised crosswalks across Jefferson Avenue.

“This is the most exciting project I have worked in my profesional career,” said Fred Kent, a placemaking consultant from Brooklyn, NY, who also presented his concept of a great city: one alive with people. “I’ve never been in a city where people loove their city more, maybe because it has gone through hard times.”

In particular, Kent praised Campus Martius, which in recent years has grown into vibrant, attractive people magnet.

As he said: “This is one of the best public spaces in the nation.”

Craig Pearson, The Windsor Star.