Detroit

Commentary
10:08 am
Fri April 8, 2011

A Conversation with Mayor Bing

I went to see Detroit Mayor Dave Bing yesterday afternoon to discuss the state of his city. It’s been a bruising few weeks for Detroit. The census showed a population loss considerably greater than expected - which means a further loss of both federal and state dollars. The governor’s budget has yet to be approved, but it seems clear that it means more cuts in revenue sharing.

Nevertheless, I found the mayor upbeat, candid and energetic. He’s convinced the census missed people, and is going to do all he can to get the count adjusted. But for now, he has to plan as if the number is going to stay at seven hundred and thirteen thousand.

There’s no doubt in his mind what Detroit needs most. “Jobs are the key,” he said. There are some hopeful signs. General Motors, Blue Cross, Quicken Loans and some other firms have announced plans to add jobs recently.  But the city has a long way to go.

When the recession was at its peak, Mayor Bing made headlines when he said that he thought the city’s true unemployment rate was as high as forty-five percent, when you counted workers who are so discouraged they aren't even taking part in the labor force.  What does he think it is now? “Still about the same,” he said.

“There are some signs the country is coming out of the recession, but that hasn’t really translated into jobs in Detroit.”

I asked the mayor, himself a former successful businessman,  about Governor Rick Snyder’s theory that lowering taxes will help bring a new flood of jobs. He smiled. “Well, it should help,” he said.

But he added that maximizing profits doesnn’t always mean adding jobs. The mayor, who took office after a special election following the resignation of Kwame Kilpatrick, has been in office  almost two years now. What does he think is his greatest accomplishment?

He said, “reducing the deficit from more than $330 million dollars to $155 million. Given the economy, that was really a Herculean task.”

Unfortunately, he fears the deficit may now rise somewhat, “if everything in the governor’s budget becomes stark reality.”

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Arts/Culture
8:14 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

What’s to learn from Detroit? Spirit, determination, and action

More than 50 community leaders from Grand Rapids got on a bus this week to find out what they can learn from Detroit. The trip’s organizers hope to build stronger bonds between Michigan’s two major population centers.

Check out Terry Johnston's awesome photos of the trip here.

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business
3:21 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Quicken Loans closes deal on downtown Detroit building

Courtesy Quicken Loans

Quicken Loans has completed the purchase of the 14-story Chase Tower in downtown Detroit. The deal will allow the company to move the remainder of its workforce from the suburbs to downtown Detroit.

When the move is complete, about 4,000 employees of Quicken and its related companies will work downtown.

The Chase Tower sits just south of the Compuware Building on the other side of Campus Martius Park, where Quicken moved about 1,700 of its employees last year.

The move downtown is part of Quicken founder Dan Gilbert’s plan to help turn lower Woodward Avenue into a mecca for high-tech, Internet-based businesses.

Quicken is the nation’s largest online mortgage lender.

Plans for the Chase Tower include retail space on the first floor, and room for tenants who fit into Gilbert’s plan for a downtown Detroit technology hub.

Economy
9:01 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Detroit home prices still slumping

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Detroit home prices continue to slump. New data from Clear Capital show the average sale price in the first three months of the year for a home in Detroit was roughly 60,000 dollars. 

Alex Villacorta is an analyst with Clear Capital. He says foreclosed homes continue to clog Detroit’s housing market, depressing sale prices. 

“Once those saturation rates come down I do think you’ll see prices start to stabilize a little bit.   Even if the overall health improves we’ll see may a more sustained price growth looking forward.”

Home sale prices held steady in most of the nation in the first quarter of 2011, except in the western U.S. where home sale prices fell to levels not seen since 2001.

Arts/Culture
6:53 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Detroit Symphony Orchestra rehersals to begin today

The DSO will begin rehersals again this morning after a six month strike
Mumu Entertainment Flickr

Rehearsals are scheduled this morning for musicians at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The DSO musicians ended their six-month strike earlier this week after they reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with DSO management.

The Symphony's first post-strike concert is scheduled for Saturday night. From the Associated Press:

The dispute was over how deep a pay cut the musicians would have to take to help the struggling symphony balance its budget. The musicians were offering to accept a 22 percent cut, while management sought and then imposed a 33 percent cut.

In an announcement on the DSO's website, DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin said:

“As we return to our home, I’m confident that the artistic product will continue at the highest possible level. There is much to be done but the DSO will emerge a healthier and stronger institution."

Arts/Culture
5:46 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

"Art X Detroit" puts spotlight on the city's literary, visual and performing arts scene

Art X Detroit runs Apr. 6 - 10, 2011
Photo courtesy of Art X Detroit

The Detroit arts world will be in the spotlight this week.

The first ever Art X Detroit event runs Wednesday, April 6 - Sunday, April 10 and will feature everything from hip hop performances to classical and jazz music to poetry readings.

The event features the 40 artists who have won visual, literary, or performing arts fellowships through the Kresge Foundation over the past two years.

Lewis Aguilar is a 2010 Kresge Literary Arts fellow. For Art X Detroit, he’s written a story about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and their time in Detroit. A dramatic reading of the work will take place at Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts:

"I will have people reading that story in the form of a 3-act play, while more than 100 images are being shown on a very large screen behind them."

Chido Johnson was a 2009 Kresge “Visual Artist” fellow, and he’s excited to display his new work during Art X Detroit. He says "Detroit has been identified over and over again as a decayed city, and this is a way to really emphasize how rich and cultural it is.

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Arts/Culture
2:05 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Exploring Detroit “beautiful and shocking at the same time”

Jerry Belanger shares the history of renovating Cliffbells with a group touring from Grand Rapids.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Just before 7 o’clock this morning, I got on a bus to Detroit. More than 50 people from West Michigan are also on board. And these are normal, non-politician-type people who are trying to learn more about Detroit.

If you find yourself asking something like, “Why would they do that?” or “What’s to learn from Detroit?” – then join me, you’re on the right track.

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Kwame Kilpatrick
12:38 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick moving to new prison

Former Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will soon be moving to a state prison cell.

A federal judge today approved Kilpatrick's request to be transferred from a federal lockup in Milan, Michigan.   The Associated Press reports Kilpatrick was transferred to a facility in Jackson after today's hearing.  

He's locked up for violating probation in a criminal case that forced him out of city hall in 2008. Kilpatrick has been housed at Milan to be close to his Detroit-area attorneys as he prepares for trial on federal corruption charges.

But he needs to return to state prison in order to be considered for parole in July. Kilpatrick was in a good mood in court, even joking with TV reporters about the favorite newscast among inmates at Milan.

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Politics
12:05 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

Ambassador bridge owner: Snyder’s plan for new Detroit/Ontario bridge should be stopped

A view of the Ambassador Bridge that spans the Detroit River
J Powers 65 Flickr

Manuel “Matty” Moroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, says Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal to build another bridge connecting Detroit and Ontario should be stopped.

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press on Monday, Moroun said, "I don't know what the governor's doing... He's probably going to win. I can't stop him, but he should be stopped. He's doing the wrong thing."

From the Freep:

Supporters of a publicly owned bridge say it will create construction and spin-off jobs near the new development and meet future traffic needs.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Snyder's point person on the proposed New International Trade Crossing, said the Moroun family's recent high-profile advertising campaign against the project cannot stop it...

By stressing the jobs that might be lost at his bridge and trucking companies if the public bridge is built, Moroun is clearly trying to influence the Republican-controlled, business-friendly Legislature that will soon decide the fate of Snyder's plan, he said...

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who opposes the Snyder plan because it would siphon traffic and revenue away from his privately owned span, sought to frame the debate this week as jobs in Michigan versus jobs elsewhere...

During the past couple of years, the Moroun family and associates have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash to both Republicans and Democrats to try to help block the public bridge project. During last year's gubernatorial campaign, however, Snyder did not take any contributions from the Morouns.

Governor Rick Snyder has said he wants lawmakers to introduce legislation to authorize a new bridge when they come back from their Spring break. Lawmakers will be back in session next week.

Arts/Culture
4:36 pm
Tue April 5, 2011

Detroit Symphony may face "steep" hills once strike is resolved

DSO musicians to return to Orchestra Hall this week for rehearsal, concerts
Nate Luzod creative commons

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians strike may be nearing its end, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to get things back on track at Orchestra Hall.

For starters, the organization has to figure out how to overcome some ‘image’ problems that come with a six-month strike.

Elizabeth Weigandt is a DSO spokeswoman. She says it hasn’t been pretty to watch the strike unfold, and some patrons may not be happy with how things were handled over the last six months, but "we're hoping that as we get back to making music for them, doing what they love, they will be able to let go of what’s happened, just as we will, and move on to an even better future."

Then there's the music. Nearly all of the current season has been lost to the strike, and the summer season was threatened as well. But Weigandt says the summer season is back on and she doesn’t think the 2011-12 season will be delayed:

"Obviously we have to move quickly to get the word out about what next season will be, but we do have a lot of interest. We will probably make the announcement as soon as we can. I would say within the next couple weeks."

Neither side has released details about the proposed contract.

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Arts/Culture
10:04 am
Tue April 5, 2011

400 to attend Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference in Detroit

The 3rd annual Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference is April 6-7 in Detroit
Dani Davis

Hundreds of artists will be in Detroit this week for the third annual Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference.

The goal is to get artists, educators and creative entrepreneurs together to brainstorm how they can help revitalize post-industrial cities like Detroit, Flint, and Cleveland.

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Arts/Culture
10:03 pm
Mon April 4, 2011

Network of former Detroiters look to assist their hometown

Bernt Rostad Creative Commons

Former metro Detroiters in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have formed a network that hopes to lend talent and assistance to the Motor City.

Bryan Fenster co-founded the Detroit Nation chapter in Chicago. He says there are scores of people with Detroit roots who want to help their hometown:

"People have law backgrounds, marketing, advertising, non-profit sector grant writing. It’s kind of all across the board. So when we partner up with more organizations in Detroit, I think we’ll have a better idea of who we can place where and how we can implement that."

Fenster says the first Detroit Nation event in Chicago in December drew about 60 people, and he expects its second event this week will draw twice that many.

Chapters in Seattle and Washington D.C. are expected to be established soon.

Economy
9:19 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Community leaders from Grand Rapids to visit Detroit this week

Detroit's skyline
Bernt Rostad Creative Commons

More than 50 community leaders from Grand Rapids will take a bus to visit Detroit this week. Organizers hope the trip will connect people, break down stereotypes, determine common problems and figure out how each side of the state can benefit the other.

Tommy Allen is an editor for Rapid Growth Media. The weekly, Grand Rapids-based economic magazine is hosting the trip.

Lately, Allen says he’s been able to work in Detroit. And he’s loved his experiences there.

 “I love how it’s changed me. My friends in Detroit have pushed me as much as I’ve pushed them. So that creative capital exchange that we do on a regular basis is going to make both of our cities better. So why not? Why not partner with people more and more in Detroit?”

Allen knows too many people who reinforce the stereotypes about and the divide between Detroit and Grand Rapids. Allen hopes to start to bridge that gap by bussing innovative, talented people from West Michigan to network with their counterparts in Detroit; see what they’re working on during a day-long tour.

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Politics
7:01 am
Mon April 4, 2011

Snyder says new Detroit/Ontario bridge is still in the works

A view of the Ambassador bridge over the Detroit River
J. Stephen Conn Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he hopes to introduce legislation next week that would move forward with construction on a second bridge span between Detroit and Canada. A similar proposal has met stiff opposition for several years among Republicans in the Legislature. Snyder says it is time for another international crossing:

“Doing the new international trade crossing is the right thing to do. At the same time, when I did my analysis I believe there’s viable opportunity to have the Ambassador Bridge continue, the Windsor Tunnel, the Blue Water Bridge, and clear up at the Soo. We’ve got great crossings, we just need another crossing.”

Democrats in the Legislature say Snyder will need their votes to approve the bridge project. They say if the governor wants their support he will also need to work with them more during budget negotiations.

Lawmakers return next week from their spring break.

Arts/Culture
8:02 pm
Fri April 1, 2011

DSO management, striking musicians to schedule "face-to-face" talks this weekend

The DSO musicians have been on strike since Oct. 4, 2010
MaxiuB creative commons

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra board gave management and its striking musicians until today to reach an agreement in order to avoid canceling the orchestra's summer season.

But according to a DSO press release issued at 5:37 p.m. today, the two sides will continue talks through the weekend:

Conversations with the Musician's leadership via phone and email have been robust this entire week.  TheDSO agreed to get together to work through the remaining issues as soon as acceptance of terms proposed by one of our intermediaries had been acknowledged by both parties.  The DSO agreed to these terms on Monday.  The DSO learned this afternoon that the musicians have accepted this framework as well and we will be scheduling a face-to-face meeting this weekend to resolve all other remaining issues.  A decision regarding our summer season is on hold pending the outcome of these meetings. 

Earlier this afternoon we spoke to Greg Bowens, the musicians' spokesperson. He said the head of the United Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO have shown their support for the striking musicians:

"The longer that things delay, the more national attention and pressure is put on the DSO to settle this situation."

The current $34-million, 3-year contract under negotiation is similar to a proposal musicians rejected back in February.

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Religion
3:52 pm
Fri April 1, 2011

"Leaving Islam" - Anti-Muslim group wins legal round against suburban Detroit bus system

examples of the side bus posters the American Freedom Defense Initiative has been running in other cities

An anti-Muslim group might be closer to getting its message on the sides of city buses in Detroit.  The American Freedom Defense Initiative bought 4 thousand dollars worth of  advertising on Detroit buses last April.  But the bus system objected to language used on the posters, which talked about ‘Leaving Islam’.

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Sports
4:29 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Tigers fall to Yankees in season opener

The Detroit Tigers started off their 2011 season on a cold, dreary day in New York. The disappointing day ended in a disappointing 6 to 3 loss to the Yankees.  

The Associated Press report recounts the game's highlights:

Curtis Granderson hit a go-ahead homer leading off the seventh inning and Mark Teixeira had a three-run shot off Justin Verlander, lifting New York over the Detroit Tigers 6-3 Thursday in the first regular-season game played in the Bronx in March. CC Sabathia pitched six workmanlike innings, Derek Jeter added a sacrifice fly in the seventh using his new stride-less swing and Mariano Rivera, wearing his socks high for perhaps the first time, earned his first save and 560th of his career. Newcomers Russell Martin and Rafael Soriano did their part as the Yankees got off to a quick start on a gray, blustery, 42-degree day.

Education
1:37 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Governor Snyder denies making choice to replace Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager

Governor Rick Snyder, (R) Michigan
(courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Governor Snyder insists he has not chosen a replacement for Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb. Bobb’s contract to oversee Detroit’s troubled school district expires in June. A Detroit TV station reported Snyder had made his choice to replace Bobb. But the governor insists he has not. 

 "We’re still looking at candidates, both locally and nationally, and we’re going through that process.  My preference would be to find somebody from southeastern Michigan that has the right skill sets and such.”

The Detroit Public School District is hundreds of millions of dollars in the red and its latest MEAP test scores were mixed.

Environment
11:36 am
Thu March 31, 2011

New debate over Detroit's incinerator

The Detroit incinerator
Photo courtesy of Flickr user tEdGuY49

Detroit is home to one of the world’s largest incinerators. That facility burns around 800,000 tons of trash every year.

The issue has sparked passionate conflict in Detroit for more than 20 years. And a recent public hearing—on whether to give the incinerator’s new owners tax credits—showed that conflict is just as intense as ever.

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Detroit
1:36 pm
Tue March 29, 2011

Detroit city council votes to increase top pay for city Water Department director

The 'Spirit of Detroit' rests outside the Coleman A. Young municipal building in downtown Detroit, Michigan
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The next director of Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department might earn a quarter million dollars a year. The Detroit city council voted to increase the job’s salary cap today by nearly  $100 thousand. Councilwoman Sauntell Jenkins  says the pay hike is needed to attract the ‘best and brightest’ candidates to fill the vacant position. 

“So if we want to move forward and doing things right, we have to be willing to do what it takes to attract that talent.  Because we’re in competition with other municipalities.”

Councilwoman JoAnn Watson voted against the salary cap increase.   Watson says,  since the council just approved a 9%  water fee increase, now is not the time to approve a pay hike for the head of the water department.

 “It’s unconscionable to be paying the director of the water department a quarter of a million dollars when citizens can’t afford to pay their basic water bills."

Detroit's mayor and the heads of three neighboring counties recently reached a deal two revamp oversight of the department which serves the needs of 4 million people living in southeast Michigan.

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