Aug 16, 2023 - Business

Downtown Detroit's steady recovery

Data: University of Toronto; Note: Seasons are March-May (spring), June-Aug. (summer), Sept.-Nov. (fall) and Dec.-Feb. (winter); Visitors determined by counting unique mobile phones in ZIP codes with high employee density; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Downtown foot traffic is still behind pre-pandemic levels, but big bets on new office and housing developments could change that.

Why it matters: Downtowns are typically the beating economic heart of a city, funneling revenue into city coffers via taxes and more.

Why it matters: The pandemic interrupted a resurgence that began downtown more than a decade ago during developer Dan Gilbert's epic run on property acquisitions and renovations, Detroit Regional Chamber president Sandy Baruah tells Axios.

  • Return to work has been slower than in other big cities, but restaurants and event spaces are thriving, he says.

By the numbers: New mobile phone activity downtown was recorded this spring at 57% of what it was pre-COVID-19, according to data analyzed by researchers at the School of Cities at the University of Toronto.

Driving the news: The Woodward corridor is replete with ambitious projects to attract new residents and jobs, many incentivized with public funds.

Reality check: Grand openings for these projects have been moving targets — delays, project reconfigurations and cost overruns are common.

  • The first groundbreaking for District Detroit's new $1.5 billion expansion was expected in July. But that didn't happen and officials declined to give a new timeline last week.

State of play: A new demolition permit was just issued at Gilbert's long-anticipated mixed-use development, once known as the Monroe Blocks development and now called the Development on Cadillac Square, Crain's reports.

  • Demolition plans in 2018 didn't occur as the project faced obstacles.

Between the lines: The sudden demolition of a historic Cass Corridor Chinatown building last month underscores the expectation among many residents that Detroit's downtown development boom takes the city's history into consideration.


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