For close to a century the Forest Arms apartments was one of the most prestigious addresses on Detroit’s Near Westside. But by the start of this decade, the city’s declining population, municipal mismanagement, and foundering economy had left the building reminiscent of postwar Berlin.
The city ordered the structure demolished, but 48-year-old local contractor Scott Lowell objected and eventually won the right to renovate the decimated 1905 Edwardian. He turned it into 70 eco-friendly apartments, many with stunning views of the city. The Forest Arms is the third blighted building Lowell has transformed, and like the previous two it will be fully occupied the day it opens.
“I regard myself as a steward of this city, and buildings like this are worth preserving,” Lowell says as he walks up a once-majestic staircase in the process of being repaired. “Young people without the baggage of the past are moving to Detroit, and they want to live in historic buildings close to where they work.”
In the 8 months since Detroit emerged from a 16-month Chapter 9 bankruptcy, the mood of the city has shifted from stoic despair to guarded optimism. Weekly openings of new restaurants, galleries, and designer shops are creating a buzz that’s impossible to deny. The streetlights are back on along Woodward Avenue, where track is being laid for a light-rail commuter train 90 percent financed by private investors. Ambulances and police cars now respond when summoned. Midtown Detroit recently acquired the sine qua non of gentility: a Whole Foods market.
Many factors contribute to the upbeat mood, but perhaps the biggest is the revival of the auto industry. Over 17 million vehicles will roll out of dealer showrooms this year, no doubt increasing the $7 billion in collective net profits the Big Three earned in 2014. This month the United Auto Workers and General Motors began negotiating a new contract that, after four years of belt tightening, likely will result in new hires and higher wages.
Despite impressive progress, Detroit still has plenty of problems. Downtown may have a 98 percent occupancy rate, but residential neighborhoods look as if they’ve been winnowed by a thousand tornadoes. There are so many vacant lots that the houses still standing almost seem like homesteads. Derelict but habitable houses can be bought for as little as $600, but there are few buyers among the 680,000 people (down from 1.85 million in 1960) who call the city home. Bargain hunters often are deterred by blight. Of Detroit’s 380,000 homes, some 114,000 have been razed, with an additional 80,000 scheduled for demolition. Detroit’s Blight Removal Task Force noted in a 2014 report, “Blight sucks the soul out of anyone who gets near it, let alone those who are unfortunate enough to live with it all around them.”
Detroit hit its nadir under Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who resigned in 2008 after pleading guilty to legal, sexual, and administrative malfeasance that included perjury, obstruction of justice, and the diverting of $10 million of city money to hide an extramarital affair with his chief of staff. Despite using a city credit card to buy $210,000 worth of restaurant meals, wine, and spa massages during his first term, Kilpatrick managed to remain in office more than six years by exploiting the prejudices separating suburban whites from inner-city African Americans. Ordered to repay the city $1 million, Kilpatrick was sent back to jail for attempting to hide assets from the court. In 2013 he was sentenced to an additional 28 years after being found guilty of mail fraud, extortion, and racketeering.
Heavily Democratic Detroit owes its resurgence in part to Republican governor Rick Snyder, who in March 2013 declared a financial emergency, appointed an experienced manager to take control of the city, and told him to file for bankruptcy so Detroit could get out from under liabilities in excess of $18 billion.
Jeb Bush had fighting words at his Wednesday speech at the Detroit Economic Club. The former Florida governor, who is actively thinking of running for president, said he was down for a rumble—at least, if anyone tried to say a bad word about his father, George H.W. Bush.
"My dad is the greatest man alive, and if anybody disagrees, we'll go outside," Bush said with a smile. "Unless you're, like, six-five and two-fifty and much younger than me. Then we'll negotiate. I'm still not going to change my mind."
As Nicole Curtis says at the beginning of every episode of her number-one HGTV show Rehab Addict, “I’m not your average flipper. . . . I don’t just renovate, I restore old homes to their former glory.”
The law does not always deliver what people might consider the “fairest” outcome. But setting aside the law and the various compromises made by elected officials when they crafted it in order to deliver a “fair” outcome would be a costly mistake—costly for every single city, county or state government that borrows money.
General Motors recalled another 718,000 of its vehicles yesterday to correct defects serious enough to require the action. This puts the number at "nearly 30 million vehicles since the start of the year, by far a record for any automaker and more than half the vehicles recalled by the industry as a whole."
The bailout of GM – at a final cost to the Treasury of $10 billion and change – was a landmark event in evolution state capitalism, American-style. The company was saved, certain creditors were stiffed, the unions were protected, and the corporate culture, it seems, was not altered in any fundamental way.
Detroit Countering the free-market political activism of the Koch brothers, green billionaire Thomas Steyer has pledged to spend $100 million in 2014 to elect an anti-carbon posse to Congress. Steyer’s litmus test is opposition to the import of Canadian crude oil through the Keystone pipeline—an issue on which the former San Francisco hedge-fund manager won a victory this spring when the Obama administration further delayed the pipeline’s construction after six years of study.
The city that President Obama was credited with “saving” – before it turned out that he hadn’t – is getting a little help from Washington as it struggles through the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history.
Michigan officials and President Barack Obama'sAdministration are discussing a plan to free up $100 million in federal money to aid Detroit's retired city workers, the Detroit Free Press reported on Tuesday.
From the moment Detroit filed for bankruptcy last summer, comparisons to the 2009 Chrysler and General Motors bailouts have abounded. Most highlight the differences, noting that the federal government is unlikely to pump billions of dollars into Detroit. But although the differences are real, the restructuring plan that Detroit has recently proposed suggests that the city’s bankruptcy may have more in common with the car bailouts than anyone imagined. Unfortunately, it’s the abuses of the latter that could be replicated—and even extended—if Detroit’s plan is upheld in its current form.
Many cheered last month when President Obama finally used his bully pulpit to talk about the problems facing young men of color. Of course, the president did not have much else to offer: Nearly all of the $200 million pledged for his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative is from private foundations, not public coffers.
Seems like this is the season for showing the American automobile some love. Also, the town that the automobile built—Detroit, aka the Motor City, where packs of feral dogs now roam the streets and den up in vacant lots between the abandoned buildings. Detroit, these days, seems far more deserving of pity than celebration.
Still, Vice President Joe Biden showed up for the annual Detroit auto show in January and delivered the usual talking points. American manufacturing is back. “We bet on American ingenuity, we bet on you, and we won.”