I am presently attending the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference in Detroit, Michigan. The conference is taking place at the tallest hotel in the Western Hemisphere, the Marriott at the Renaissance Center. The hotel is part of the Renaissance Center complex, located on the Detroit River–which is not a river at all (it’s a strait)—across from Windsor, Canada.
As part of the pre-conference activities, I got to take part in the Motor City Tour this afternoon, hosted by the Detroit Experience Factory. Highlights included the Gardner Building, the riverfront, Indian Village (an exquisite collection of 6,000 to 7,000 square foot mansions), Midtown, and the Heidelberg Project.
Our story begins with Jeanette Pierce, a lifelong Detroiter and advocate for the city. After moving downtown in 2003, Jeanette wanted to find a way to help others see the vibrant, beautiful Detroit she knew and loved, not the negative, media-driven portrayal of the city.
In 2006 she and a friend founded Inside Detroit, a nonprofit with a mission to give an insider’s perspective of the city to anyone and everyone who was curious about what was really happening in Detroit.
Inside Detroit quickly became known as the ‘on-the-ground’ resource hub for the city and in May of 2008 it became Detroit’s first brick-and-mortar welcome center located at 1253 Woodward. Through guerrilla marketing, grassroots community outreach, and doing a lot with very little, Inside Detroit gained a reputation as everyone’s Detroit friend.
A few years after Inside Detroit opened, the Hudson Webber Foundation started a new project called D:hive, with a mission to encourage talent attraction and retention in the city. In 2012, Inside Detroit and D:hive joined forces for a 3-year period. Jeanette and her crew of tour guides continued to lead tours with D:hive, and in 2013 they have helped over 10,000 people experience Detroit.
In February 2014, almost exactly 8 years after Inside Detroit was started, D:hive Tours became the Detroit Experience Factory. With DXF, we want to reach even more people, both in Detroit and all over the world, to continue sharing their love for this amazing city they call home.
To put things in scale, Detroit is not small, nor is it empty. The city boasts a population of 700,000. In terms of square mileage, it’s the same size as Atlanta and Portland, with 200,000 and 100,000 more residents, respectively.
We drove past the Eastern Market, which is the oldest continuous market in America in operation since 1891. There has been $9 billion private investments since 2007 in downtown and midtown Detroit. Much of Detroit had been abandoned and is now under a renaissance. The theatre district boasts 13,000 seats in a two-block radius, second only to Broadway. Detroit is not dead. Get out and explore the Motor City, a post-industrial masterpiece that is constantly being reinvented.