Column about Detroit

By Susan Young

The Observer

The city of Detroit, or as Aretha Franklin pronounces it, “Day-Twah”, gets a much undeserved bum rap and might not be your choice of vacation destinations. However, my recent visit was a pleasant, safe and educational experience.

We stayed in the core of the city at a renovated historical building which opened in 1924 as the tallest hotel in the world with 33 floors. After decades of ownership changes, the windows were boarded up in 1984 until 2006, when $200 million was pumped into it and it emerged as the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit. It is a sight to behold with restorations mirroring the glam and luxury of the twenties.

The architecture in this town is amazing, even to the uneducated eye. But, looking closer one might observe broken windows and empty caverns of buildings which once stood proud. The restoration of downtown Detroit is on the move, however, and there is a glimmer of hope emanating from this proud city and its loyal citizens.

Corporations like Quicken Loans, CompuWare and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan have moved into the city, recruiting young talent able to purchase or lease housing in the downtown area for a fraction of the cost of other large cities. The IT staffer GalaxE Solutions, whose mantra is “Outsource to Detroit”, has been successful bringing in hi-tech jobs and, along with the others, changing Detroit’s image of a one-industry town. The auto manufacturers, which in the past kept the city thriving, could not drive the city back from the brink of ruin, so rescue had to come from industries which could promise a safe, affordable and hip place to relocate.  Detroit delivers on that promise.

Not all is rosy, however. An incident at our conference proved that the city’s infrastructure is still on the mend. The husband of a conferee had a medical situation requiring transport to a hospital. The 911 call resulted in a 55 minute wait only to be advised to take a cab. All turned out well for the patient but it is sobering to think that emergency rescue is not available when you need it. After sweeping corruption out of the fire department, a new chief promises to reverse this trend and add much needed emergency transport by January of 2012.

Perhaps our little town could learn something from Detroit’s reinvention. “Saving the Charm” does not mean turning down every new business or restaurant wanting to invest in our community. More on that subject next week…

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