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An Inside Look Into Detroit’s CRE Revolution

“We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes.”

That’s Detroit’s motto — how fitting for a city experiencing one of the greatest surges in adaptive reuse in the United States.

And it’s no coincidence that adaptive reuse has been flourishing in Motor City. “Detroit’s architecture is unique for the same reason the city is — the rich history here lives on through the buildings that have housed iconic sources of city pride,” said Dan Mullen, Executive Vice President at Bedrock, the largest real estate partner in downtown Detroit.

Honoring the past

Intelligently re-using spaces allows Detroiters to look to the future, while still honoring the city’s past. “Many of the buildings were pillars of the community in their day, and there is the opportunity to make them so again by filling them with thoughtfully-selected ground floor retail and businesses that are contributing to Detroit’s future as a dynamic urban core,” said Mullen.

He continued, “A former theater is now a home to a co-working space filled with tech start-ups, old bank vaults have been transformed to modern conference rooms, and alleys are now home to bars, restaurants, and public art.”

The strategy has helped revive both the office and retail markets in downtown Detroit. Each sector has witnessed significant growths in rent and absorption over the past several years. Some of the biggest gains have been in Class B office buildings.

The same yet different

Many of these spaces are being leased up thanks in part to another major trend: urbanization. “All across the country, young, educated people in their 20s and 30s, as well as empty nesters, are moving to downtown urban cores,” said Mullen. “And the same thing is happening in Detroit.”

The influx of tenants has transformed the downtown residential market and has brought in all types of new businesses — with a particular emphasis on technology companies.

But Mullen was careful to point out that Detroit wasn’t losing its character because of the new influx of residents. “Lately there’s been a lot of talk about Detroit being the ‘new this’ or the ‘next that,’ but we’re not trying to be anyone except for Detroit. We’re a unique city with a one-of-a-kind energy that’s all our own.”

Don’t forget the placemaking

To make the city more than just a collection of revived buildings, Bedrock — and many other firms in the city — “have invested heavily in placemaking, improving walkability, and the activation of public spaces,” said Mullen. “As we continue to fill in key ground floor retail spaces, a sense of density will continue to emerge, and encourage Detroiters to walk from one neighborhood to the next.”

He added, “Detroit’s future will be full of people dining in Midtown before they walk to Comerica Park to see a Tigers game, or enjoying happy hour downtown before heading to a reservation in Corktown.”

Billy Fink
Billy Fink
Billy Fink is a former member of the VTS team. Subscribe to the VTS blog: https://blog.vts.com/
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