5 days. 43 deaths. 2,500 buildings looted and/or destroyed. 1,200 injured. 7,200 arrested. Upwards of $45 million ($328 million in today’s dollars) in damage.
5 days to undo all that was good in Detroit.
5 days to turn a city on the rise into a city of fire.
5 days to leave a permanent scar and change the city forever.
It all started on a hot Sunday, July 23, 1967, at the corner of 12th and Clairmount, when the police raided a blind pig (after hours bar) and rather than succumbing to the unjust arrests as they had done many times before, the African-American community finally had enough. Enough of the beatings. Enough of the false arrests. Enough of the acquittals of white policemen killing innocent African-Americans.
Bottles were thrown. Words were said. Assumptions were made. And soon the sunny skies turned black from smoke as over the span of five days, the African-American community that endured so much bigotry at the hands of the nearly all-white police force rebelled by looting and destroying the very businesses they frequented every day. It would take the National Guard and then the Army to bring calm back to the city. And when the smoke cleared, the most devastating riot in American history had destroyed the spirit of Detroit.
Rather than rebuilding, businesses that once thrived decided against returning to the city. Government subsidies enticed Caucasian residents to move to the suburbs and thus left behind advances in integration. The city simply never recovered economically.
Since those unforgettable days, Detroit languished in mediocrity as it fought against Devil’s Night arsons, corrupt mayors, senseless deaths of young victims, and commonly being named crime capital of the country which kept new businesses from opening and people from visiting unless required to do so.
Today, Detroit once again is seeing a resurgence in business, entertainment, and real estate due to a combination of many factors. For starters, Detroit elected a progressive mayor who aims to improve race relations and grow the economy much like Jerome Cavanagh did in the 1960’s.
Investments by business magnates Dan Gilbert and the late Mike Ilitch have spurred much-needed growth with Dan Gilbert serving as a catalyst in 2010 when he moved Quicken Loans and his other businesses downtown. Since that time, Gilbert has invested over $1.6 billion in real estate with Ilitch Holdings stating in late 2016 that they are on track for “about $2 billion” in investments. CBRE show a “capital investment of $5.4 billion in development project from 2017-2020” according to Curbed.
Detroit’s business district is just 7.5% vacant as businesses from the suburbs are relocating downtown and as Dan Gilbert and the city aim to bring businesses from outside of the state (most recently by successfully lobbying Microsoft to open a large office in the city).
Today, people are paying upwards of $300 per square foot to buy in midtown and downtown Detroit. In 2016, the Detroit Free Press reported that median home sale prices had “hit $293,000, almost double the median price of $167,900 in spring 2013.” Equally important, Detroit is seeing an increase in millennials moving in, a demographic important to grow a city that once was over 1.8M in the 1950’s and now hovers below 700,000.
New hotels, The Siren Hotel in the Wurlitzer building, the Element Hotel at the Metropolitan Building, and the Shinola Hotel join popular and filled hotels such as the Westin Book Cadillac, Aloft Detroit at the David Whitney Building, and the Atheneum within the Greektown Casino.
Emagine Entertainment Inc. is eyeing a megaplex in the city, the first in more years than anyone can remember.
The city of Detroit will soon be the only city to have all four sports organizations downtown when the Little Caesars Arena opens and houses the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons. Add in a possible MLS stadium and Detroit has the makings to be a real sports mecca (now they all just need to win)!
Just two months ago, Detroit launched the QLINE, Detroit’s light rail that takes visitors from midtown to Downtown.
Residents and families from the suburbs flock downtown to experience one of the many new restaurants opening downtown. Today, Detroit is now often included in the top 10 cities for restaurants, and world-class chefs are opening restaurants in the city. For the first time in 50 years, the Detroit Restaurant Association will be back.
Today, within a few block radius, residents and guests can shop for athletic gear at Nike and Under Armour, choose a new outfit at John Varvatos and Bonobos, and then head for a burger at Shake Shack before relaxing at “the beach” in Campus Martius.
Workout enthusiasts can take a run or bike ride along the Riverwalk and then end the evening at the recently opened Beacon Park for food and entertainment each weekend.
And for those who want to press their luck, three busy casinos offer to roll the dice or pull a handle (also the only place one can legally smoke cigarettes inside).
Once again, the term ‘urban renewal’ is used to describe Detroit.
With all of these advancements, Detroit still has a ways to go.
The city as a whole still struggles with dilapidated houses, its school district still ranks low nationally, and crime is still prevalent.
The areas in which many suburbanites feel safe when visiting is still relegated mainly to just one three-mile stretch (and mainly on one street, Woodward); an MLS-proposed stadium will ideally expand that small area, but it alone is still not enough to expand businesses and residential growth throughout a greater part of the city.
The opening of a Whole Foods in 2013 signaled the return of a major grocery chain, but the city still lacks a Kroger or Meijer in the Corktown or Downtown area as well as important retailers such as Target and Walmart. Stores like these are important for simple infrastructure and to show longevity in Detroit’s growth.
Despite these setbacks, Detroit will continue to hustle or as the popular t-shirt claims: Detroit Hustles Harder.
A Detroit vs. Everybody mentality has evolved over time and today, those within the city and even its suburbs are proclaiming their pride, trying to capture the spirit of Detroit that once thrived a half century ago. Instead of Detroit vs. Everybody, it’s time for it to be Everybody for Detroit.
For those wanting to learn more about the tragic riot of ’67, check out the Detroit Free Press; 12th and Clairmount, a documentary created by the Detroit Free Press, Bridge magazine, and Channel 7; and, of course, Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit releasing this week in select cities and August 4th nationwide.