Put Your Hands Up For Detroit!

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Put Your Hands Up For Detroit!

OK, well, maybe don’t quite put your hands up too high or someone might steal your wallet – and you’re going to need that for some high-end shopping. In Detroit? One doesn’t usually associate possible pickpocketing and premium retailers in one location unless it’s a top tourist destination like Rome or Paris. That is, until Detroit was named as the next potential shopping destination.

While Detroit doesn’t possess the cache of other fashion destinations around the world, say London or Milan, or even in the United States like New York, the most-densely populated city in Michigan is well known. Detroit is either famous for Motown music, the heart of America’s automotive industry, top universities and leading professional sports teams, or infamous for 8 Mile Road, bankruptcy, crime and dilapidated buildings.

Despite a colourful reputation, no one can deny that the City of Detroit is a fighter. You won’t see a ‘Visit Detroit’ advertisement displaying picturesque landscapes and smiling faces. Instead, Detroit proudly depicts itself as the hard-knock place that ‘real’, tough and working Americans approach life with grit and get on with it.

Chrysler, one of the primary automobiles manufactures in Detroit, embodies this persona in their advertisement featured during the half-time show for the American Football Super Bowl, one of the most sought-after, exclusive ad-spots in the world.


Never one to back down or roll over, the ‘Motor City’ is once again picking itself up and working towards a glistening goal. Why not? It’s the American dream, after all!

Dan Gilbert, self-made billionaire and businessman, is a Detroit native and sees promise in his hometown. Gilbert’s newest venture plans to transform this once rundown, urban decay centre into a prominent luxury-shopping destination on par with Beverly Hills, Dubai and Hong Kong.

Of course, there is a method behind this apparent madness. In the past few years, Detroit has witnessed major urban regeneration with new retail, office and residential apartment developments. Woodward Avenue, the spine of Detroit’s central business, cultural and retail district, had been in disrepair since the late 1980s, but new redevelopments and regeneration has created over 10,000 jobs during an 18-month period. This, in turn, attracted an influx of young professionals to the area. A study published by the University of Michigan’s Graduate Real Estate program reveals that the majority of downtown Detroit residents are young professionals between 25 – 34 years old with 43% earning an income between $50,000 and $99,999 (Roughly £33,000 and £67,000). Furthermore, 42% of the young professionals in the downtown Detroit area live alone, and the 33% that live with a partner or spouse do not have children. Thus, these residents are more likely to have disposable incomes.

Joann Muller, a writer for Forbes and Detroit native, was “shocked” by the change to Woodward Avenue stating that her and fellow Detroiters, “marvel at the number of people they see riding bikes or walking dogs in the [Woodward Avenue] neighbourhood. [We] joke that joggers are running for exercise, not out of fear”. Community and Detroit are now synonymous the world over thanks to Apple’s ipad explainer video “Slow Roll” http://goo.gl/dBp2zl showing how community is at the heart of all meaningful regeneration.

Cadillac Square at Campus Martius Park lies in the heart of downtown Detroit and is beating once more thanks to Project for Public Spaces (PPS), which has partnered with Rock Ventures to implement rotating pop-up eateries and vendors, as well as transforming the cement-laden business district with a man-made ‘upscale-Michigan-style’ beach complete with lounge chairs and umbrellas during the summer months.

Various residential communities have emerged to accommodate downtown’s new personality. The Albert in Capitol Park was built downtown in 1929, but has been redeveloped into luxury apartments with 127 completely renovated units and ground-level retail spaces. The Lofts at Merchants Row is a ‘loft community’ on the previously mentioned Woodward Avenue comprising of luxury lofts and modern apartments that benefit from gym facilities, parking garage and on-site drycleaners.

Eager, fresh earners flourishing in downtown Detroit are lapping up these restored surroundings with modernised apartments, rejuvenated office complexes, energetic professional sports arenas and buzzing nightlife. Yet, one key component is missing from this promising regeneration – retailers. Downtown Detroit’s young professionals’ spending power combined with the unattached disposition of downtown Detroit’s young residents can translate into promising results for a shopping destination.

And the residents want desirable retailers. Whole Foods opened a 21,000 sq. ft. unit in 2013 on Woodward Avenue despite claims that Detroiters would not respond to the retailer’s upscale prices and items. However, just a few months later, Whole Foods CEO stated that the store was ‘exceeding our wildest expectations’. Moreover, generic shopping centres experience year in/year out success. The Belmont Shopping Centre, owned by Petzold Enterprises Inc., has occupied 150,000 sq. ft. since 1956, yet has experienced full or nearly full occupancy, as well as low tenant turnover rates since being remodelled in 1999. In fact, the average length of tenancy for a store at Belmont Shopping Centre is an astounding 23 years!

The success of this shopping centre is bittersweet as low tenancy turnover rates translate to a lower number of different, on-trend stores in the downtown Detroit area. Enter Dan Gilbert and his fellow investors Mike and Marian Ilitch, co-founders of Little Caesar’s pizza chain in the US. Gilbert, a self-made billionaire and owner of America’s second largest mortgage lender, is already successful in his endeavour to rebuild Detroit. After a personal appeal to fellow Detroit-native John Varvatos, the luxury menswear designer has agreed to call downtown Detroit the new home for his latest store. New York based speciality coffee house, The Roasting Plant, has recently opened its first store outside of New York on Woodward Avenue. Furthermore, Restoration Hardware, a favourite home furnishing seller amongst affluent customers, is the next retailer to touch down in Motor town.

Bringing high-end retailers to Detroit was an unattainable dream just two years ago when the city filed for bankruptcy. But, by December 2014, Detroit came out of bankruptcy with a plan that includes investing $1.4 billion over 10 years into city services, ridding themselves of $7 billion in debt, and Dan Gilbert. That is because Gilbert has invested $2 billion into his hometown by transporting the Quicken Loans, his mortgage lending company, headquarters from the suburbs to city centre, creating a business campus as the new nucleus of the city, associating with Detroit-giants Chrysler for building and business opportunities, and, most dynamic of all, purchasing 70 buildings and more than 10,000 sq. ft. of property in the downtown area to lease or sell to his desired retailers for his ideal customers.

With Gilbert and the Ilitch team at the helm, progress seems inevidentiable. In fact, The Ilitch’s company, Little Ceasar’s Enterprises, is sending their Real Estate division to ISCS RECon 2015 this year in Las Vegas. Other Detroit real estate development, property management and architecture attendees to RECon 2015 include Curis Enterprises, redevelopment specialists at RACER Trust, commercial and office real estate company Bedrock Real Estate Services, and NORR, LLC the architecture and planning firm responsible for development marvels, such as Edinburgh Airport, Al Hitmi Complex in Qatar, Atlantis the Palm Dubai, and the Roasting Plant Coffee House to name a few.

So, what is Detroit’s fate as a luxury-shopping destination? Will Detroit experience a similar regeneration with the likes of Brooklyn, New York and Hackney, London – once derelict, but now a hip hub where young professionals and tourists alike flock for new experiences? We’ll see – there are already the green shoots of recovery. Watch this space!


Taylore Hunt

Account Executive – taylore.hunt@innesco.co.uk

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