If you build a new Detroit, they will come…
The ‘D’ is a draw
Most suburbanites are repeat visitors
August 22, 2007
When it comes to good food, culture and sports teams, Detroit has flavor, pizzazz and game — and a fair share of suburban visitors.
Nearly two-thirds of residents of suburban Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties say they at least occasionally dine, attend cultural events or take in professional games in Detroit.
High earners especially come to Detroit for the restaurants. Oakland residents are the most likely to seek out culture such as music, theater or dance in Motown. But the appeal of the city’s three professional sports teams cuts across lines of gender, geography and all but the smallest incomes.The findings are based on interviews with 640 suburban and 158 Detroit residents for a Detroit Free Press-Local 4 Michigan Poll conducted July 29 to Aug. 1 by Selzer and Co. of Des Moines, Iowa.
Questions asked just of suburban adults have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. The margin is 3.5 percentage points for questions asked of all 798 adults.
Work brings about 12% of suburbanites to Detroit frequently and another 11% occasionally. About 9% of suburbanites say they never set foot in the city, the poll found, though among those younger than 35, only 2% never get to the city.
What would bring more suburban and city residents downtown?
The top answer of both suburban and city residents was more security — despite statistics that show downtown has a relatively low crime rate.
Detroit residents also cited better retail shopping and improved public transportation as changes that would bring them downtown more.
Here are other key findings about suburbanites who visited the city in the past year:
• About 9 in 10 African Americans came to the city at least occasionally to visit relatives or friends.
• Nearly 6 in 10 people earning $85,000 a year or more came into the city at least a couple of times a month. About 80% of the high earners went to Detroit restaurants at least occasionally.
• More than half of people younger than 55 said they came to the city at least a couple of times a month. Those younger than 35 were the most likely to frequently attend pro games or dine in Detroit.
Aubree King, 19, said she isn’t worried about her safety when she comes downtown. King, an Oakland University sophomore and Ortonville resident, said she comes to Greektown to eat.
But she said she really would like a wider variety of festivals. That’s true of many in the under-35 crowd. Thirty-nine percent of those polled in that age group said they would come downtown a lot more if it had better festivals.
“That would be really cool,” King said. “The culture is really fun.”
One-third of the respondents said more interesting retail shopping would bring them downtown more often, but nearly one-half said it wouldn’t make a difference. Shopping was a bigger factor for African Americans and Detroit residents.
Fifty-seven percent of Detroiters said they would shop downtown a lot more if it had more interesting shopping. And better public transportation would draw 54% of Detroit residents downtown a lot more.
“The bus system is not that good,” said Seena Wiggins, 22, who lives on Detroit’s west side.
Wiggins shops in Dearborn, but said downtown would draw her if it had retail stores such as Old Navy and Target.
“All they have downtown are little specialty stores,” said Wiggins, who visits downtown mostly for Tigers games.
John Carroll, executive director of the Detroit Regional Economic Partnership, said the poll results were encouraging.
But he said he’s amazed that so many people rarely, if ever, come downtown.
“I think the biggest issue of all is that people are not aware that it’s out there,” he said. “It still astounds me that there are so many people who haven’t been downtown for years.”
Downtown hosted a Super Bowl last year, holds an annual Winter Blast and recently opened a greatly improved RiverWalk. And mayoral spokesman Matt Allen said the city has a federal grant for light rail service from downtown along a yet-to-be-determined 12-mile route. The service should be running by 2011, he said.
Still, some say they stay away for fear of violence. Forty-five percent of those surveyed said more security would bring them downtown a lot more, and the opinion crossed race, age, gender and income lines.
Fifty-seven percent of African Americans voiced that opinion. So did 50% of those earning $85,000 a year or more and 49% making less than $35,000.
“There is still a lingering perception that Detroit in some corners is not a safe place,” Allen said. The city is in the process of hiring and training 200 more police officers, he said.
But the image that downtown Detroit is unsafe is undeserved, said Kurt Metzger, a demographer and director of research for the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.
“The areas most people would come to Detroit for are very safe,” Metzger said. “But in the end, it does get down to perception. For whatever reason, people have this idea that Detroit is dangerous.”
Norman Aldred, 54, of Brownstown Township said he visits Detroit a few times a year but that he canceled a trip to the auto show with his grandson a couple of years ago because he heard about a shooting in the city.
“We shouldn’t have to worry about a shoot-out,” he said.
Dane Clark of Rochester Hills said he isn’t worried about coming downtown with his wife, Cathi, and their two children. They occasionally make trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts, see plays and watch a Tigers or Lions game.
“It’s terrible that Detroit has to live with those perceptions,” said Clark, 46. “We’re all in this together. We all have some skin in the game.”
Contact RUBY L. BAILEY at 313-222-6651 or email@example.com.