$1.5B District Detroit buildout faces heavy criticism at public hearing over incentives

Development incentives for the proposed $1.5 billion District Detroit buildout came under heavy criticism Monday night during the first public hearing for a Transformational Brownfield valued at $616 million over 35 years.

Nearly two dozen people offered questions or comments on the project and incentives during the two-hour virtual public hearing for the Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. The authority's board is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the Transformational Brownfield request, which is the largest of the nearly $800 million in planned incentives, tax breaks and reimbursements for the project over the three and a half decades.

The project, a collaborative development by the Ilitch organization's Olympia Development of Michigan and megadeveloper Stephen Ross's Related Cos., calls for 10 new buildings or rehabs. The developers say the project is not possible without the incentives.

Nearly all public comments Monday were negative and opposed to the brownfield incentives. Because the meeting was conducted over Zoom, full names for all of those who spoke were not available.

“We shouldn’t be giving Olympia any money because five to six years ago you came to us, promising a thriving neighborhood already, and you failed to deliver on those promises," said Detroit resident Landis Spencer.

Another commenter, "Caleb," who identified himself as a member of the Detroit chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, said he has a lot of problems with the development proposal and the incentives.

“The Ilitches have proven time and time again, especially from the last time the city gave them money, that they will not keep to their promises and only build to help their own self interests," he said, "like when they built Little Caesars Arena and left all buildings surrounding it completely unused and barren."

For their part, representatives for Olympia and Related Cos. emphasized Monday how 20% of the project's nearly 700 apartments would be set aside at "deeply affordable" rent levels for Detroiters making no more than about $31,000 per year as an individual and $45,000 for a family of four.

A conceptual rendering for a hotel next to LCA
A conceptual rendering for a hotel next to LCA

Those below-market rents are a reason why the project needs the development incentives to be financially viable, representatives have explained.

"We are about trying to make a difference in the lives of people in Detroit," Keith Bradford, president of Olympia Development of Michigan, said during the virtual meeting.

Yet resident Theo Pride of the Detroit People's Platform said during the hearing that the proposed affordable rents would still not be affordable enough for many Detroiters.

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A potential office building at 2300 Cass.
A potential office building at 2300 Cass.

The project, he said, “will hurt majority Black Detroit — period. It will displace Black people while redistributing resources from the Black public to private white pocketbooks.”

The requested Transformational Brownfield incentive would be a state-level tax capture for the project valued at $616 million over 35 years.

The Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority could vote Wednesday to approve the brownfield request and forward it to Detroit City Council.

If the council then gives its approval in March, a final vote on the brownfield could come in April from the Michigan Strategic Fund, and groundbreaking for the first proposed building — a 17-story office building at 2200 Woodward, in front of Comerica Park — could happen in July.

The developers also are partners on a separate yet related project to build the $250 million University of Michigan Center for Innovation in Detroit.

Contact JC Reindl: 313-222-6631 or jcreindl@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @jcreindl.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: $1.5B District Detroit buildout faces criticism at public hearing