THE BLOG
12/21/2012 03:12 pm ET Updated Feb 20, 2013

The Detroit of Tomorrow

It's an exciting time to be a Detroiter. This is not the city I grew up in. That Detroit was a place where we went downtown exclusively to see the Tigers, Red Wings and the yearly North American International Auto Show. Other than those events, we avoided the city. Plagued with crime, cronyism and corruption for years, it hasn't been a place to hang out. I have news for you, though. Today's Detroit is different.

For the first time in my lifetime, something special is finally happening. I would argue that this recent movement originated in 2003 when someone finally made the decision to join the Ilitch Family who had been investing in Detroit for years. That someone was Peter Karmanos who announced that year his exciting plans to move Compuware's headquarters to Campus Martius.

This progress seemed to reach its tipping point in 2010 when Dan Gilbert moved Quicken Loans' headquarters downtown from its home in the suburbs. Since then, Gilbert has pushed forward while investing millions in the process. During that time, his contagious vision has caught on as many others have begun to buy in and see the potential for what is at stake.

Today, news reports about companies moving their offices downtown seem to be a daily occurrence. Also, with opportunity at its highest availability in years, startups are lining up to immerse themselves in TechTown, The M@dison and Corktown among others. Furthermore, in the midst of all this excitement, jobs are being created. This is extremely good news for a metropolitan area that, in 2009, peaked at 17.3 percent unemployment.

For years, the city has been striving to solve the decades' old problem: more people exiting the city then entering. Finally, strides are beginning to be made. While the original increase in residents came about from company incentives for employees to move downtown, Detroit has, in recent years, begun to become the "cool" place to live for many.

The Broderick Tower, located in downtown Detroit at Grand Circus Park, recently underwent two years of renovations and now offers residential and commercial space. Only five days after receiving their Certificate of Occupancy, the building's owners, Motown Construction Partners, announced that it was fully leased. Furthermore, many other residential buildings are experiencing similar successes.

On the city's transit side, a bill that would create a Regional Transit Authority passed in the State Senate recently and is currently in the State House. The creation of RTA would cover Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. In addition, among other duties, it would oversee the creation of the proposed M-1 Rail, a light-rail line supported by several business leaders that would cover a 3.3 mile stretch of Woodward Avenue. A passed bill would be a major victory for mass transit and is a requirement set in place by Ray LaHood, U.S. secretary of transportation, to receive necessary funding for the project.

While work and life are important ingredients for a successful city, no city is complete without the element of play. This is an area that Detroit has done well in. Having a family like the Ilitchs who have invested money into Comerica Park, Motor City Casino and Fox Theatre has made Detroit a destination for play over the past decade. Furthermore, successful sports teams, year after year, have attracted large crowds. For example, the 2012 Detroit Tigers' season saw over three million attendees flock to Comerica Park to see their team make it to the World Series for the second time in six years.

Ilitch Holdings also recently announced exciting new plans for a large-scale project that would develop a new entertainment district in Detroit. Included in this $650 million development would be a new sports arena as well as residential, retail and office space.

The restaurant industry has greatly improved as well in recent years as many new places to dine are popping up left and right to go along with those well-reputed restaurants that have called Detroit home for years. If you visit Corktown, you should expect to stand in line one to two hours to get the opportunity to feast on The Yardbird, a favorite that was recently featured on Travel Channel's Best Sandwich In America. Also, famous Detroit restaurateur, La-Van Hawkins, along with others, opened Detroit Cheesecake Bistro in September. While these are only a few examples, Detroit is becoming a place to sit back and relax while grabbing an exceptional bite to eat.

All of these advancements and progress are being brought about from a common vision for a new Detroit being cast by those on the front lines. I had the opportunity recently to catch up with six people who are contributing to Detroit's resurgence through building startups, small businesses, incubators and non-profits. The question I asked each of them was this: What is your vision for success in the city of Detroit?

Greg Schwartz, Co-Founder of UpTo:

We're already seeing a lot of success in Detroit. After years of moving in the wrong direction, we're now moving in the right direction and there has never been a better time to live and work in Detroit. A successful Detroit not only involves having people living and working downtown, but also a vibrant urban core with shopping, restaurants and nightlife, and a public transportation system that makes it easy to commute to Detroit and travel between Detroit's neighborhoods. The turn around is well on its way.

Matthew Mosher, CEO of hiredMYway:

When the city can effectively provide a balance of live, work, play. I think we are within two years of hitting that equilibrium.

Leslie Smith, President/CEO of TechTown:

If we define entrepreneurship to mean engagement with enterprising activities that build capital through risk and/or initiative, then it may well be just what we need.

CAPITAL FOR A CITY = people, places, infrastructure, opportunity, community, security. If our collective enterprising activities can solve for the right side of that equation, I think we will have achieved success and can thank entrepreneurship for it.

Alex Southern, Founder of Grow Detroit:

I want Detroit to be recognized as a hotbed of innovation, of course. The national media is beginning to recognize that something special is taking place here, thanks largely to the vision of individuals like Dan Gilbert and Brian Hermelin. Now, the time has come for other leaders in the region to follow their example and go 'all-in'.

Josh Linkner, CEO/Managing Partner of DVP and Dan Gilbert, General Partner of DVP and Founder/Chairman of Quicken Loans:

A vibrant work/live/play city that rivals other major urban areas such as NYC or Chicago. A diversified economy that is fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in a wide array of industries. A city that has easily accessible mass-transit and that people feel comfortable walking around at night from a public safety standpoint. A place that college grads want to move to and build their careers. We will win when Detroit once again stands as one of the premier cities for innovation and entrepreneurship. None of us can rest until that day. It is our responsibility (and privilege) as citizens of this community to pour our heart and soul into rebuilding this great American city.

As Metro Detroiters, we are daily seeing advancements and progress being made but I know I have wondered at times, what is the vision behind it all? I learned early in my career that without a vision and goals, you are most likely going nowhere. Thankfully for today's Detroit, those on the front lines are visionaries that have bought into a common vision.

Warren Bennis, leadership expert, once said this: "Vision animates, inspires, transforms purpose into action." The reason there is a buzz in Detroit is because, for the first time in decades, there is a vision for a new Detroit. In addition, action is following. Progress attracts new investment, ideas and, most importantly, residents that will call Detroit home. Take note: Today's Detroit is different. Tomorrow's is not the city I grew up in.