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Revitalizing Motor City: Detroit tops U.S. cities for planned renovation

Karl Fendelander | Improvement Center Columnist | November 8, 2013

Detroit took more than its fair share of knocks from the recent recession, becoming the poster child for a hard-hit American economy. A recent New York Times article pointed out that this birthplace of the mass-produced automobile -- the city that is literally responsible for bumper-to-bumper traffic jams -- is now so spookily devoid of residents that it doesn't have a rush hour - just a trickling commute. However, this may change dramatically in the near future.

Renovating Motor City

Towering above urban Detroit are some of the most beautiful skyscrapers to come out of Art Deco design. While the exteriors of these buildings stand firm as a testament to their construction, the interiors have not fared quite as well. Many have suffered under years of near or total abandonment. These gorgeous buildings are now selling cheap (some for less than a single apartment in New York City) to developers looking to pour millions into bringing them back to their former glory:

  • In the city's Renaissance Center, the Detroit Marriott is slated for a $30 million makeover.
  • The landmark David Whitney building has a planned $82 million coming its way for renovations.
  • After 31 years of vacancy, the Wurlitzer Building was recently purchased by an Israeli developer with big plans.
  • Shanghai-based DDI Group recently purchased the David Stott and Free Press buildings with the intent to spend millions breathing life back into them.

And these are just a handful of the major projects in the works. Developer and Detroit native Dan Gilbert is a huge part of this renovation process and was one of the very first to start bringing big-city business back to town. "Urban renewal always happens as a symphony of events," Gilbert recently told the New York Times, "and part of the symphony is innovative, optimistic developers with the ability and willingness to transform historic properties."

There are a host of smaller instruments playing their parts in Gilbert's symphony: Residential developers and homeowners are working to revitalize more than just Detroit's urban center. Home prices in Detroit are up 33 percent since July 2012. While some are interpreting this as a sure sign that the housing bubble is back, a more optimistic look at these numbers shows renewed confidence in the market and growing demand to call Detroit home. Backing up this optimism is a recent study by Houzz that found that 88 percent of homeowners in Detroit are planning to decorate or redecorate their homes in the next two years, putting the Motor City in a three-way tie with Phoenix and Indianapolis for second place in this category. Detroit comes in behind only San Diego and Washington, D.C.

In spite of the 33 percent jump in housing prices, the median price for a home in Detroit is still just $13,556, making it easy for almost anyone to check homeownership off of their American-dream bucket list. Exactly what buyers are looking for in a home can change from person to person and family to family, but Detroit is quickly becoming a more and more appealing place to call home. From the newly reopened Belle Isle Aquarium to the resurrection of such events as Downtown Detroit Days, Gilbert's symphony of renewal seems to be heading towards what everyone hopes will be a towering crescendo.