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Detroit planners working on industrial property survey

The city of Detroit has, by far, the most new industrial construction underway out of anywhere else in the region.

Some 2.75 million square feet is in the ground, according to a fourth-quarter report from the local office of New York City-based brokerage house Newmark.

That’s the future. But what about all of its industrial past?

That’s the focus of a new effort within the city’s Planning and Development Department, now helmed by Antoine Bryant, who joined me and my colleague Arielle Kass for an extended conversation on the inaugural episode of The Build Up, a new podcast she and I host covering commercial real estate issues that launches today.

“This is a city that has been built on industry,” Bryant said. “Many of these factories, the footprint still exists even if the industry is vacant or in neglect. So how do we repurpose those spaces? We can’t just let them be. They make up a significant part of the urban landscape.”

In some ways, the city has been working on altering their trajectory, getting developers to come in and tear down much or all of what remains — looking at you, Cadillac Stamping Plant and American Motors Corp. property and Packard Plant — and giving new life to those expansive swaths of land.

But there’s still a lot of work to do.

Bryant said that not long before he came to the city to take over the planning department, the city hired a new senior planner, Julie Connochie, whose background is in industrial planning.

“We’ve really given her the reins to really take a close look at the industrial landscape that exists in the city,” Bryant continued later in our conversation when asked for more details. “What does that mean? We have a lot of pretty large parcels that were factories of various sorts, that were manufacturing entities. Many of them, because of the way the city is laid out, are … (in) … neighborhoods. So many of our residents, they drive by, they walk by these hulking masses in the middle of communities. So, where are they, and then how do we address that and, both from a physical standpoint and from a repurposing standpoint?”

Bryant said the end result should be a report that constitutes a “full-scale analysis of where they are, and produce directives on repurposing those sites throughout the city.”

It’s not just industrial properties the city has looked at in such a way. Last year, the city and Detroit Public Schools Community District commissioned a study on more than 60 vacant school properties in Detroit as well. That’s just one example.

Best not to be hamstrung by misconceptions about industrial uses, Connochie said.

“Candidly, I think planners can get too hung up on the idea of adaptive reuse as the future of industrial lands and buildings, because of widely held beliefs that the industrial sector is noxious and in decline,” she said. “I’m more concerned with what a more sustainable (both environmentally and economically) future for industrial development looks like for the city, and that starts by understanding what sectors beyond just the maker/small manufacturing uses are flourishing and what their needs are. My research on this topic directly informed the industrial design guidelines I’ve been working on, which balance urban design and environmental planning principles with what is feasible for the end user.”

Those guidelines are expected to be presented by the summer.

There have been other studies on industrial properties and sites in town, including a 2017 study by Detroit Future City showing that there are about 900 such vacant industrial buildings in a wide range of condition across the city.

“Many of these buildings abut residential neighborhoods in some of the city’s most disadvantaged areas,” the report reads. “Without a strategic approach to repurposing these properties, they will remain fallow for years to come, posing threats to public health and safety, and undermining Detroit’s recovery.”

And much more recently, my colleague Annalise Frank wrote a month ago, Detroit Future City and the Southwest Detroit Business Association looked at sites zoned for industrial use in southwest Detroit bounded by I-96/I-75, West Vernor, Livernois and Michigan. All told, it’s about 1.6 square miles around the Clark Street Technology Park, and includes around 5,300 residents and 30 existing businesses.

Tom Goddeeris, COO for Detroit Future City, said Tuesday morning that in the last several years, the city has typically focused on big sites where large employers could plant their flags.

“But as they move forward with the Joe Louis Greenway, which travels through industrial districts, there will be some interesting opportunities to rethink about community development at a scale without necessarily thinking about a mega project,” Goddeeris said.

Yet there are former industrial properties scattered throughout the city and the people who live near them need to have an important say in how they are reused, whether you’re dealing with larger sites or smaller ones.

The future use of properties like the ones the city is now cataloging need to consider the residents that surround them.

“The strategies are going to vary a little bit (with smaller properties), focused on smaller companies, homegrown manufacturing companies, and some reuse away from industrial in some cases into potentially something like a solar array or a different type of use,” Goddeeris said.

“Residents want economic development, but they don’t want it at the cost of air quality and the health of their children.”

I’ll be waiting to see what Connochie and her team come up with.

Head of the Weiser Center for Real Estate moving to NYU

Marc Norman, the faculty director of the Weiser Center for Real Estate and director of Real Estate Initiatives at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, is taking on a new job at New York University.

Norman becomes associate dean of the Schack Institute of Real Estate within the NYU School of Professional Studies effective July 1.

“The long history and reputation of Schack provides the infrastructure on which to build new programs and create new collaborations. I am excited to join such a dynamic institute embedded in an amazing university,” Norman said in a press release.

In addition to founding his own consulting firm Ideas and Action, Norman has also held leadership positions with Duvernay+Brooks, Deutsche Bank, and Upstate: Center for Design, Research, and Real Estate at Syracuse University.

He is also a past chairman of the Federal Reserve’s Community Advisory Council.

Equitable development task force proposed in Detroit

New Detroit City Council member Latisha Johnson is calling for the creation of an Equitable Development Task Force, which she would chair through the end of the year.

The resolution says the group would “focus on addressing the needs of the underserved communities through policies and programs that reduce disparities while fostering places that are healthy and vibrant and may include residents, representatives from the community, labor, the business sector, as well as any other individuals interested in participating.”


Posted By: Crain’s Detroit Business on March 15, 2022.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

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