Billionaire Dan Gilbert Steadily Buying Up Detroit Buildings

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Billionaire Dan Gilbert Steadily Buying Up Detroit Buildings
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Dan Gilbert. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/stella12.)

Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans is fast becoming downtown Detroit's prime mover and shaker. In March, Forbes ranked Gilbert No. 384 on its "World's Billionaires" list -- a 470-slot jump from last year. And Gilbert is spending his money in the Motor City. Gilbert is buying up, remodeling, and repurposing downtown properties. He's definitely giving Detroit's Little Caesars Ilitch family a run for their money in the property line. And Gilbert's improvements may have major impacts for city dwellers.

Gilbert's First 16

By March 2013, Gilbert, via his development company Rock Ventures, owned 16 buildings, says Detroit Unspun. That's 2,900,000 square feet of office and residential space, or almost one-quarter of downtown Detroit's estimated 13,187,372 square feet office space. As of March, the Chase Tower and First National Building were Gilbert's most notable possessions. Then, he purchased the building at 1001 Woodward at the corner of Michigan across from Campus Martius Park. The Detroit Free Press reports that the 23-story building has 275,000 square feet of office space and ground-floor retail. Built in 1965, it was originally the First Federal Savings and Loan of Detroit. It's now 68-percent occupied. Quicken Loans' lease will bring building occupancy to 87 percent.

Possible Greektown Casino Acquisition

Detroit Unspun says figures on Gilbert's ownership of Detroit were estimates, because no one knows what or where he'll buy next. He's working on a deal with Greektown Superholdings for the Greektown Casino-Hotel, says the Detroit Free Press. They've yet to close the deal. A sub-group of Gilbert's Rock Gaming owns roughly 76 percent of controlling casino shares, but he can't take over until he gets a personal gaming license. The Michigan Gaming Control Board meets April 9 and will consider Gilbert's application. Under the deal, Gilbert would buy out shares at $90 each. Shareholders who don't sell will have an independent director voice on the Greektown board.

Old Hudson's Department Store Site

One of Gilbert's pet projects is the repurposing of the site where J.L. Hudson's store behind the Compuware building once sat. Hudson's was a household name. At one point, it was the second-largest department store, and the 1206 Woodward store was the flagship. Gilbert wants something special for the site, and he's willing to pay for it -- around $75 million. The Detroit News says Rock Ventures is hosting an international design competition to cull ideas for the site repurposing. The State of Michigan granted Gilbert more time to complete development pending results of the competition.

From Rehab to New Construction

Gilbert began his buying quest in 2010. Initially, Rock Ventures president Matt Cullen said Gilbert followed a more traditional path: Buy old buildings at bottom dollar and rehabilitate them. But now, Gilbert says Detroit is ready to support new construction, reports the Detroit Free Press. Projects like the Hudson's site are part of that new direction.

An educator and native Michigander, Marilisa Sachteleben writes about issues, events, people, and places in her state's most pivotal city of Detroit.

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