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Amanda Brewington Headshot

Transparency vs. Exclusivity: Which Rebuilds a City Faster?

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My vote is for transparency. I'm a huge believer in telling the truth. You should be telling everyone what you're working on in life and where you might need help. I have come across many opportunities and in turn successes through operating this way.

Last Thursday, Dan Gilbert, along with his company and other organizations that are putting their money where their mouth is and investing in Detroit held an invite-only meeting at City Theatre to "roll-out" their plans for several downtown areas. First of all, I want to thank people for investing in Detroit. Secondly, I don't understand why this event was invite only. Shouldn't the citizens of Detroit be invited to the unveiling of their own city? Not how I would have done it. But hey, maybe they didn't want a town hall meeting, those haven't always gone well for us as of late. I have to admit I was excited to FINALLY hear about what businesses will occupy the buildings that I live literally right next to. Thursday at around 4:30 p.m. I started trolling around the Internet looking for any write-ups on the event. I found a live blog from the event, but as I began to scroll through it my excitement faded. FAST.

Again it was a collection of digital renderings of Detroit with superimposed people walking around, next to generic café tables and umbrellas, looking busy and engaged. A bustling city, but it could be anywhere really. I've seen it before. Since the late 2000s when Gilbert started investing in Detroit and in-turn buying up buildings I've heard from many sources, including members of Bedrock Real Estate (Gilbert's Real Estate Company) that they are recruiting businesses to go into the spaces they own and they are filling up... fast. But I am beginning to wonder if they really are. Name some names, build the excitement about the amazing companies you have coming to downtown soon. Take us on the journey. Include the citizens of Detroit, after all we're the ones that are already here and eagerly waiting.

I don't understand the "don't look behind the curtain" mystery they are trying to create. Is it all really an epic secret? Or is there nothing to tell?

I am opening a community focused coffee house and event space in northwest Detroit. I tell everyone where I am in the process, either in person or on my business Facebook or Twitter page. I told everyone when I signed my lease, when I signed my loans and where I am in the inspection process. I even talked about deciding on where I would open via my blog, looking for feedback. I want everyone to experience this journey with me. I think in the end they will feel a part of something and they should. No man (or woman) is an island. Not even Dan Gilbert.

But let's go back to the digital renderings and the continuous generic ideas that keep being presented. The thing I love about Detroit, like Austin or New York is all the little hole-in-the-wall shops and classic haunts. Detroit has some amazing places like this and we should have more of them in a centrally located district. Pop-ups are great (heck I did one too), but pop-ups should be a stepping-stone to permanent tenants, not just filler during the summer months.

Not adding to Somerset Lofts and opening a Papa Joe's. I'm sorry, but with the Olga's on Woodward and a Papa Joe's going into the First National Building I'm beginning to feel like downtown is becoming a mall in Birmingham and not a vibrant metropolis. Before I offend everyone who lives in Birmingham, I just want to say this isn't meant to be an insult to you, its just not what downtown Detroit needs. I understand we need these things, we need a grocery store, we need restaurants. But we need things that are unique to our own city. We need things that fill the needs of all citizens that live here. No matter the different income levels, different interests, we need to engage everyone, not just the new recruits.

We need to intrigue others to want to check us out and maybe stay a while. We need bike shops, coffeehouses (like The Roasting Plant), specialty stores and retail. We really need a dense retail district. When I walk to work on a warm Saturday I get one or two "tourists" taking pictures in front of the old Wayne County Building asking me where "the shops" are? I want somewhere to send them other than Greektown. From the prospective of a Detroit resident and business owner... please let us know what is going on in our city, we might just have some ideas that could work.