NACE opens doors in a revitalizing Detroit

Detroit's COBO Center.

By Jeff Sanford

Detroit, Michigan — July 20, 2015 — It’s finally here. This year’s annual NACE event starts up this week, with the official start date set for July 21. Industry executives from across North America will be arriving in Motown for the annual get together. You can see the full agenda at

This year’s event is expected to be bigger than ever. The main conference will take place in the downtown conference location, Cobo Center. A wide array of programming has been scheduled, with full sessions starting on July 22 and the Expo floor opening on July 23. This provides a perfect opportunity today for attendees to take a look around downtown Detroit. This is, after all, a city said to be reviving after decades of neglect and decay.

It was only last year, of course, that Detroit officially declared bankruptcy. But for anyone living in Detroit, the city has essentially been bankrupt for thirty years. The city holds the unusual distinction of being the first North American city to both grow past one million in population and then later fall back under that number.

The loss of automotive jobs in North American only contributed to the story of Detroit decay, but for anyone familiar with the story on the ground in the downtown today, there is a new more positive story emerging. For the first time in memory, there is a bit of a resurgence downtown.

It’s too early to call this a turnaround in the city’s fortunes, but it is the case that the motor-city is becoming the urban area of choice for a whole new cohort. Many young millennials, frightened by the high price of living in Brooklyn or Los Angeles, are beginning to set up shop in Detroit. Small business owners annoyed with higher-priced locales like Toronto are landing in super-cheap Detroit. For these urban adventurers, moving to the Motor City is a chance to get in on the ground floor of an up-and-coming city. German art students have moved into some neighborhoods and are living “off the grid.” Artists are moving into lofts where they can have as much space as they need for next to nothing in rent. Chinese investors have been buying up large swathes of abandoned neighbourhoods. It’s said these investors see an opportunity to buy land in a major American urban centre for almost nothing.

The notion is not a nutty one. It is only the very downtown core of Detroit that is bankrupt. The core of the city is still surrounded by almost 30 million suburban Americans who live within an hour drive. All the major Detroit sports teams have built (or are building) new stadiums in the core. Tax processing firm Quicken has moved it offices to Detroit. New York land developers are buying up some of the historic nineteenth and early-twentieth century skyscrapers that are no longer found in other American downtowns. There is a program that sees writers offered a free house in Detroit in a bid to get so-called “creatives” to move to the city. Others are simply buying up super-cheap homes as a way of putting a roof over their head for almost nothing compared to any other American city.

There is a renewed sense of excitement among some in downtown Detroit. The first major renovations of old buildings in the core are going ahead. The Detroit electronic music festival just attracted 100,000 young Americans from Europe and around North America to the city. Many were there for the first time and commented on how impressed they were. As some begin to question whether drought-stricken southern Californian and southern Florida can continue to support as many people as is currently the case, the idea that at least some of the offspring of those that fled northern US for the warmth of the Gulf Coast and other southern locales a generation ago, may return. Here’s to the ongoing revival of the Motor City. Get out of the hotel and look around!

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