06/03/2013 02:09 pm ET Updated Aug 03, 2013

Some Billionaire's Folly: Is Detroit an Incredible Investment Opportunity?


Detroit is suffocated by $15.6 billion in long-term debt, crumbling infrastructure, no city services, crippling poverty, struggling schools ... the hackneyed metaphors go on. Most say Detroit is done for, finished, an infected cyst on the palm of Michigan. But I just can't reconcile that attitude with what I think is plain to see: Detroit is the best investment opportunity since some numbskull bought Alaska for $7 million.

Now, I don't know much about investment opportunities, but I can't imagine that if I had $15.6 billion to burn, I wouldn't be intrigued by the prospect of calling up Kevyn Orr and asking what I'd get in Detroit for that price.

I imagine the list would go something like, the Water and Sewerage Department, the DIA, 80,000 to 100,000 properties and the right to redevelop and sell them as I saw fit ... plus I'd probably wind up with the ability to do some creative financial stuff with all the money owed in pensions.

Beyond just the assets you'd buy, you'd be buying them in a city that sits on an international border with the United States' largest trading partner. Despite one billionaire's protests, a second bridge will soon augment the percentage of the United States and Canada's $680 billion per year in trade that passes through Detroit. Detroit is also situated with access to more freshwater than anyplace else on earth, outside of a Siberian lake in Russia.

Again to perspective: From one view, Detroit has 700,000 citizens and no capacity to employ them or provide jobs. From another, all that this city has is jobs. There is more work to be done in Detroit than even 700,000 people could accomplish -- there's just no one to train and pay them to do the work. But imagine if $15.6 billion in debt just -- poof! -- disappeared. Even the meager income the city has could surely stir up some Works Progress Administration and put people back to work.

Instead of spending the 16 months focused on debt, the emergency manager and Detroit politicos could spend that time focused on putting systems in place that ensure we never arrive in a position like this again.

I'm not advocating this necessarily. I have spent no time thinking or writing on the political or societal or democratic implications of something like this, and there are many. But I can't look at our present state in Detroit and not see it as an incredible investment opportunity.

Warren Buffett likes to buy low, and Dan Gilbert is already a billionaire on the ground. I wonder if they've talked.

Note: I'm sure there are people who will say this is, practically speaking, "impossible." Like I said, I have no idea what I'm talking about, and would love to learn why this is impossible.

Addendum: I focused on the billionaire angle because it was clean and easy, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this as an alternative: Instead of a couple billionaires putting up $15.6 billion, what if a few hundred thousand, or million, people crowdfunded $15.6 billion? This notion was addressed glibly in a recent video. They were actually on to something.

This post originally appeared on System D.