If you build a new Detroit, they will come…

The ‘D’ is a draw
Most suburbanites are repeat visitors

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 rbailey@freepress.com.


~ by Keith A. Owens on August 22, 2007.

11 Responses to “If you build a new Detroit, they will come…”

  1. So they’ll come….and then what?

    A related question. If we were to take this article and use it as the model for urban development, what would be the chief purpose of a city?

  2. Keith –> thanx for sharing this article. The good thing is to get metrics. It is always better to make a case based on data rather than ‘your gut reaction’. I lived for 8 years in downtown Detroit (1986-1994). As such, I hope that the city can get itself together. The money spent for GM world HQ, Compuware, Fox Theatre, Tigers Stadium (by any other name) and Lions Stadium is remarkable. More housing. Do something with the burnt-out husks that still remain from the 1968 riots should be removed. Anyhow, thanks for sharing the 411 on this article with us.

    peace, Villager

  3. Lester,

    Very good question. I think the quick answer is that more folks spending more money in Detroit should translate into good things for Detroit. I realize that’s a bit simplistic, but I do think it’s better to have folks spending money in the D than not.

    As for your second question, that’s a bit more difficult. If I’m interpreting the gist of the piece correctly, then I would say using it as a model for urban redevelopment, the purpose of a city would be to develop it in such a way that it is more attractive to those who have money to spend so that we can attract those dollars and spend them on that city’s needs. Personally, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing so long as the rest of the populace isn’t shoved out the window.

    But any way you look at it, at least that I can see, no city can develop or redevelop without the cash.

  4. Villager,

    Thanks much for stopping by and for your comments! Looks like you moved out of Detroit just when I was moving in. There’s still so incredibly much to be done, but I think there’s a good positive momentum going that if kept alive could really make a huge difference. To an extent it already has.

  5. trickle down politics doesn’t work because the money doesn’t quite trickle down…and the taxes that were removed to GET the trickle down aren’t recovered.

    that’s what’s happening in cities. they use a growth strategy based on downtown development and tax abatements, working on the argument that those abatements will generate more revenue than the taxes would if they were there.

    it doesn’t quite work that way.

    so not only is the vision of the city that this article promotes a bit off (and i like ruby a lot) because the definition of the city really depends on people who only visit for entertainment purposes. it’s a bit off because the stated purpose of the model–to entertain folks so much that they money they spend can trickle down to neighborhoods–isn’t fulfilled either.

  6. […] So how do we reach that one third of the population that so stubbornly refuses to acknowledge this Next Detroit and is keeping their families from enjoying and being involved in Michigan’s urban renaissance? [via teamowens313] […]

  7. As a central city Detroit was the hub for the arts,financial,and commerce,today the suburbs have tap into the system with duplication without paying or reimbursing the city for start up cost i.e.(Wyandott has its on water and sewage dept.).Whats is needed is a catalyst like the dream cruise to bring us back together,cruise down woodward from the river to pontiac

  8. I have always enjoyed the energy of Detriot. I was surprised when pub crewling downtown how many white folks did hang out in joints. It is a great story and more investment will make it even better

  9. D Townie,

    That is indeed the question, and I’m not sure I have the answer except to say we need to keep the momentum going and keep pushing for the word to get out.


    I’ve heard some other folks talking about extending the Dream Cruise, or at least doing something similar that could create more of a regional cohesion. Not a bad idea.


    Good to ahve you in the house. Yeah, Detroit’s downtown is really starting to kick pretty live these days, which is great to see. And white folks most definitely don’t appear to be afraid at all.

  10. Lester,

    Sorry to take so long getting back. I really appreciate your response, and I do understand the points you make. I too have had a lot of reservations about the tax abatement strategy because it essentially negates the purpose of bringing in more business for more property taxes. As for overly depending on the entertainment-as-salvation model, you raisea good point there too. Entertainment alone, especially when it depends on outsiders, isn’t necessarily a safe bet. Although it could be argued that it has worked like crazy for Las Vegas.

    But nevertheless, when you originally asked what is the purpose of a city? I think that depends on the city and what that particular city is good at. Although entertainment alone cannot save Detroit – you’re right – Detroit also has a pretty strong hand to play when it comes to entertainment. You may have seen where we were recently voted Best Sports City by I think it was sporting news. There is a ton of music here. And now we have casinos (although I’m not a big casino fan). Properly marketed, this could indeed play a large role in turning the tables for the city.

  11. I love being able to come to the city and hang out at night. One of my classmates was able to get a liquor license for the week of the Superbowl and make a MINT. If I were just ten years younger I’d have been on the first plane back to the city Superbowl weekend with loot in tow for one of the parties–even though I probably wouldn’t have had to pay because I’m connected.

    The first thing I do usually when I get to the city is drop the kids off and head down to the Rhino.

    So I’m not knocking entertainment.

    What I’m suggesting though is that the purpose of a 21st century city should be first and foremost to deal with the needs of its residents, to help them develop the capacity they need to feed, clothe, shelter, govern, and secure themselves. This is above and beyond “what a city is good at” because if you really look at it, the cities that black people tend to live in are not “good” at much beyond making their residents poorer, sicker, and more dependent.

    Dependency–and this what the drives the entertainment model–is not a viable model for a 21st century city. Even though the clubs are dope.

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