Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan delivered his ninth annual State of the City address Wednesday with a focus on job opportunities, blight transformation, and “how far we’ve come.”
“We’re going to talk about where we have been and where we are going,” Duggan said.
He delivered his speech at the General Motors Co.’s Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center, where he touted the future of electric vehicles and the city’s role in industrial innovation and technology.
Duggan focused on residents returning to work in the city, sustaining jobs and opportunities, black-led development, affordable housing, but jumped right into the redevelopment of properties that gave Detroit its international reputation for blight.
Around the world, museum spectators have paid to look at photos of ruin porn of Detroit’s abandoned buildings. TripAdvisor listed 4-stars for Detroit’s ruin tours, and the blight was the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature headlined “How Detroit became the world capital of staring at abandoned old buildings.”
“You could see why people were so interested,” Duggan said. “Twelve sites have been abandoned in Detroit for a combined 475 years. It seemed hopeless back in 2012 and 2013.”
Aside from tackling the Hudson’s site, billionaire Dan Gilbert committed $300 million for a three-year restoration of Book Tower, which is expected to open later this year with 38 stories of residential, office and shops. Duggan also thanked Chris Ilitch for demolishing the internet-famous “Zombieland” building and restoring the abandoned Eddystone Hotel next door.
He celebrated a planned $134 million redevelopment of the Fisher Body Plant into lofts; turning the historic Lee Plaza into a $60 million affordable senior housing project; flipping the former American Motors Headquarters into a $66 million industrial space; a $48 million complex on the former Cadillac Stamping Plant, now known as the M3 Commerce Center; and Ford Motor Co.’s redevelopment of the Michigan Central Depot in Corktown.
The abandoned former State Fairgrounds will soon be home to a $400 million Amazon Service Center with 1,200 jobs. Residents advocated for the State Fair Band Shell to be saved from the site and it was relocated to Palmer Park, a neighborhood to the west. The site’s Dairy Cattle building will also be turned into an indoor transit center.
During his election victory speech in November, Duggan said the city would tackle the long-abandoned Packard Plant.
It’s been more than a year since Peruvian developer Fernando Palazuelo scrapped his plans for a $350 million mixed-use site. He broke ground in 2017 on what would have been a four-phase development. In 2020, Palazuelo put the property up for sale.
“We left the worst for last,” Duggan said of the plant Wednesday night.
The plant, which closed in 1958, is 47 separate buildings with three owners.
Since 2017, the city has demolished 100,000 square feet and plans to remove most of the rest, but will reuse the Grand Boulevard frontage. The city is also going to trial this month to force the private owner to address his neglect, Duggan said.
“We’re finally going to remove the owner that’s inflicted this blight on us the last eight years and allows us to move forward. I want to make sure there’s no chance somebody comes around with a camera and takes new pictures,” Duggan said. “So, we have a new list of 100 eyesores to be addressed.”
The city will start with the demolition of the incinerator, which closed two years ago, he said.
The presentation shifted from confronting and managing historic blight to the efforts being done in the neighborhoods, a common theme the mayor has focused on since he took office in 2014. Duggan started in 2013 with a campaign slogan “Every neighborhood has a future.”
More than 23,000 vacant homes have been removed and under Proposal N and the first priority will be demolishing vacant houses next to occupied homes. Another 11,000 vacant houses have been restored, he said.
“We are two-thirds of the way through the abandoned houses in the city and I expect in the next four years, that we are going to either demolish or renovate every abandoned house so no child in the city ever grows up in a block where they have to walk past one and feel bad about their neighborhood,” Duggan said.
Resources for residents
About 1,700 alleys were cleaned in 2021 and the city projects 2,000 more this year.
To date, 20,000 Detroiters have bought side lots adjacent to their homes. Its success has led the Detroit Land Bank to kick off a new program for neighbors to “Create a Project.” The additional vacant land in neighborhoods will be offered for communal use. This spring, the city will develop a grant program to help fund the projects proposed by residents. In total, 50 projects a year may be eligible for grants from $500 to $15,000 to develop land in the neighborhoods.
It will help the city’s home values, Duggan said, which rose an average of 30% across Detroit in 2021.
“Rising property values are a source of great wealth-building for Detroit homeowners, but we have a second issue… if you’re a renter, you have the potential to be pushed out. What do we do about the folks who stayed and so we’ve made a commitment to protect affordable housing,” Duggan said.
The city has preserved 6,000 units and 4,000 more are underway. More units are being built to accommodate those in need.
This spring, an affordable housing locator website will be launched by the city for residents to keep track of the availability and qualifications.
During the pandemic, more than 3,000 evictions were prevented through federal programs, which will run out this fall. Duggan said Sheffield is presenting a plan to provide legal representation to low-income tenants.
More than 1,200 Detroiters are attending college with scholarship funds from the Detroit Promise, which funds Detroit high school graduates with good grades on their college path. Grow Detroit’s Young Talent has also employed 8,000 teenagers each summer, Duggan said.
“We remain one of only two or three cities in Michigan that guarantees college tuition to every child in our community,” Duggan said. “Real estate people say, ‘If you buy this house, with it comes college tuition’ it’s a great attraction.”
Since 1980s, Detroit closed more than 20 recreation centers, but Duggan said it’s time to reverse the trend. The city is opening six new centers.
Starting with the abandoned Lipke Center, it will be rebuilt and operated by Mitch Albom and SAY Detroit. A new Kemeny Rec Center was built in 48217, the Dexter Elmhurst Community Center will be rebuilt in the next two years. In Chandler Park, a new parts dome will provide year-round activities on the east side, a new gym will open at the Farewell Center, and the Lenox Community Center will reopen next year after being closed for a decade.
For adults, Duggan announced Detroit at Work is offering five different scholarships totaling $100 million. This includes getting paid $10 an hour to attend literacy or high school laces, paid to attend training courses for new certificates, skills for life classes two days per week, returning citizen support services or business start-up support and entrepreneurship training with Motor City Match .
They are more than 13,000 jobs available through Detroit At Work after the city lost more than 47,000 during the pandemic.
Last year, Duggan gave his speech at the new Stellantis plant in the city. He vowed to put an end to redlining in car insurance rates, tackle a gun-crime backlog and amass $50 million over five years to “put into our people.”
At the time, Detroit’s murder and violent crime rates rose even as pandemic overall declined during the COVID-19. The city recorded 327 criminal homicides in 2020, up 19% from 274 the previous year, according to January 2021 police statistics.
Then, Duggan said there were 2,200 gun charges backed up in Wayne County, and to address gunfire, 36th District Court Chief Judge Bill McConico would handle the docket and ensure cases are prioritized.
Duggan said while record violence is occurring across the nation, Detro is seeing a decline.
Since Detroit Police James White joined in June, Duggan said they partnered with the justice system and have reduced homicides by 23% and non-fatal shootings 27% from the previous year.
“The Detroit US attorney’s office has been the strongest in America at charging local gun cases and backing us up… everyone’s working together,” Duggan said. “It’s an amazing thing. When Chief White doesn’t attack the prosecutor or the judges or the feds and everyone works together. Strategy and teamwork matter.”
So far this year, homicides are declining 23% and non-fatal shootings have declined 17%, Duggan said.
“Nobody is claiming success until we’ve seen the summer months but I will say, if you see the violence continue to come down, it’s going to be because the police, the county executive, the US attorney and the courts are working together, ” said Duggan, adding the city still hears gunshots at night and isn’t safe enough.
The Detroit Police Department with Crime Stoppers is launching rewards TV, where residents can watch and help provide tips on open crime cases that can lead to cash rewards.
“If the citizens will use TV rewards and bond with the Detroit police, we can make it a lot safer,” he said. “You’ll hear more about the expansion of ShotSpotter, better use of metal detectors, but we are going to keep going until everyone feels safe.”
City Council President Mary Sheffield assured Detroiters that the council council is committed to working with the administration and that longtime residents will be prioritized during the city’s growth.
“While we have made progress, we recognize that there is much more work to be done to ensure every Detroiter can thrive during this period of growth,” Sheffield said Wednesday night. “We must acknowledge those who made this resurgence possible, such as longtime residents, city workers, pensioners and Detroit-based businesses.”