Fun in The D: College Students Tour Detroit
This was an assignment I didn’t mind taking on. CommunityNEXT was holding an event for college students in Metro Detroit called “Live! Work! Play! in the D.” Did I want to go?
So on June 20, I joined approximately 30 other students as we were taken to the Compuware, Chase and M@dison buildings for behind-the-scenes tours led by Bruce Schwartz, Quicken’s Detroit relocation ambassador. We also attended a panel discussion with five Detroit moguls and ended the night at the Tigers vs. Cardinals game at Comerica Park.
Tough job I have sometimes!
It would have been a perfect day if the Tigers won, but the event was incredibly eye-opening, even for a born-and-raised Metro Detroiter like myself. Like many of my peers, I go into the city for sports games and other special events, but I don’t think of the city when deciding where to go for dinner or drinks. That’s where CommunityNEXT comes in; it’s working to change our perceptions of Detroit.
Touring Webward Avenue
First, we checked out one of Quicken’s floors in the Compuware Building. Schwartz took us to the basketball court for a birds-eye view of Campus Martius and a brief history of Quicken’s recent efforts to build up the city. Though the court is decked out with Cleveland Cavaliers paraphernalia — Quicken’s chairman, Dan Gilbert, is majority owner of the Cavs — the company is all about Detroit.
About six years ago, Quicken decided that it would move its offices to the city from the suburbs. “Since we’ve moved down here,” Schwartz said, “we’ve seen production and innovation increase.” The process of moving the family of companies Downtown is still under way; Title Source is next.
He pointed out locations along the street where new businesses such as coffee shops and restaurants are moving in, visual confirmations that this area of the city is transforming. “Our ‘sweet spot’ is the area north of Campus Martius,” explained Schwartz. “There aren’t many cities in America where you can buy space like this and build it up. We’re looking to create the urban vibe people are looking for, that people move to Chicago and New York for. We want to get that to happen here so we can keep people here.”
On the 10th floor, there is a room Schwartz called the “war room.” Inside, the walls are covered with maps of sections of the city and foam boards with details of buildings and city blocks. This room is where the company focuses on and organizes its vision and plan for the city.
We then moved across the street to the Chase Building where we walked through a floor filled with Quicken’s salespeople. This department looked crazy; there were electric scooters and the walls were covered in dry erase boards that had pictures and words all over them. Just by looking at the workspace, it was clear that Quicken is committed to fostering a creative and innovative environment.
From the Chase Building, we walked to the M@dison Building, which houses technology-based companies such as Detroit Labs, Twitter and Doodle Home, and then we hung out on the
While there, I asked some fellow students how this event changed their perspective of the city. Darrien Sherman, 20, of Bloomfield Hills said, “It’s so inspiring. Being here and seeing what’s going on here makes me excited for what’s happening in Detroit.”
For Gaby Boufford, 21, of Rochester, the day “made Detroit seem more livable and modern than I realized. It obviously needs more work, but it’s getting there.”
Another student, CJ Apel, 20, voiced doubts about Detroit’s renaissance. “I really do hope it’s coming back,” he said, “but it seems like it would be hard to grow a city from the top-down, so I wonder if this growth can continue as it is.”
Hearing From Leaders
We then headed to the M@dison’s auditorium where we met five businesspeople for a discussion. They were textsfromlastnight.com co-founder Ben Bator, manager of Detroit Service Initiatives for Repair the World Ben Falik, managing partner of Ludlow Ventures Jonathon Triest, vice president of Detroit Venture Partners Jacob Cohen and CEO and founder of Savorfull Stacy Goldberg.
A member of our group asked the panel why they decided to stay in Detroit despite the reputation of the city. Bator jokingly said he “forgot to move once textsfromlastnight.com took off” but actually stayed because he would visit other places like Los Angeles and “come home and just realize how much better it is here. I have a passion for this city that I don’t have for anywhere else.”
Triest explained, “One of the best things about Detroit is that you can be a big fish quickly, which is very helpful when starting a business.”
Goldberg piggybacked on that idea, saying, “I knew staying in Detroit was best for me. There’s more of an opportunity to shine here.”
Cohen agreed with them, saying being able to stand out has helped him immensely. “I also craved being a part of building something and watching it grow, and this city is perfect for that,” he said.
Falik finds he has a “sense of purpose” here.
A lot of us were interested in what it’s like to live in the city; Cohen, who lives Downtown and loves it, said, “Living near where you work and go out, that’s why people love NYC and move there,” he said. “But we have that right here.”
Living in a suburb, according to Bator who lives in Royal Oak, is not ideal. “I hate that I can’t walk to work. I thought living in the suburbs would be great, but it sucks,” he said bluntly.
Of the five speakers, four of them left Metro Detroit for varying lengths of time, but they all came back. As Cohen told us, “Stay here if you have an opportunity here. You will not regret it.”
What they shared about their experiences further cemented what I have learned since going to Boston for college: There really is no place like Detroit.
Marielle Temkin of Farmington Hills is a senior at Brandeis University where she’s the managing editor of the student newspaper. She’s interning at the Jewish News for the summer.