Friday, September 28, 2012

The Quickening of Detroit

A stroll along WEBward Avenue

In Detroit there are the dreamers. And there are the doers: those who dare to make a difference: to “walk the talk,” as they say, turning and returning to “The D” as a destination, a place of choice and new opportunity. . . to live, work and play.

Much has been written, spoken, tweeted, tagged, liked, linked and noted about our remarkable comeback city.
The seeds of renewal and revitalization are deeply rooted in Detroit’s very nature. Out of adversity has come the commitment to change - a compulsion to replant, to regrow, to rethink and to re-create.

And so we find ourselves – Motor City at the crossroads.  Captivating national interest. Shifting our attention back to the city, where opportunity abounds. Detroit, a model laboratory of urban renewal, has “beautiful bones” . . . a downtown with a world-class architectural infrastructure, that’s accessible, walkable, affordable and wide open for transformation.

“New ideas need old buildings." - Richard Florida, Urbanist, Author,  Atlantic Senior Editor on Detroit Rising.

Attracting young, creative talent to the city is no longer that impossible dream. They’re here, they’re coming back or coming to the city for the first time to explore. They get it. They’re not waiting for a distant future or perfect conditions to arise, they’re coming now in droves with their own ideas and plans, with an entrepreneurial spirit, the heart and desire to be a part of the rebirth of a great American city.
“You'll see it when you believe it.”Dan Gilbert, Founder and Chairman, Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans, Inc.

The Gilbert effect: Rockin’ Detroit

One of the champions of the new Detroit, its chief visionary, primary mover and biggest booster is Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Rock Ventures, Quicken Loans, principal at Detroit Venture Partners and Majority Owner, Cleveland Cavaliers. Starting with the relocation of Quicken headquarters to the Compuware Building, a decision that brought 1,700 Quicken Loans team members downtown in 2010, Gilbert has played a key role in developing a creative tech-focused urban core. Over the past two years, Rock Ventures – Quicken Loans' umbrella entity that oversees Gilbert's investment and real estate -  has moved full-steam ahead, purchasing and repurposing prime properties, totaling more than 1.7 million square feet of office space and three parking garages downtown.

Building momentum

In 2011 Rock Ventures purchased the historic Madison Theatre Building and began transforming it into a collective tech hub to incubate start-ups and to encourage partnership among entrepreneurs. Early this year, the tech giant Twitter moved into the building, signaling the real change taking place, a growing tech industry forming at the heart of the city along the new “WEBward Avenue” corridor.  In July Rock Ventures' Title Source moved into downtown Detroit’s First National Building, bringing another 1,500 employees downtown. By year’s end, Rock affiliated companies will have more than 6,500 team members working in Woodward’s technology district surrounding Campus Martius.

The buzz 

Ask Bruce Schwartz, Detroit Relocation Ambassador at Bedrock Real Estate Services, (Rock Ventures' commercial real estate team) for a tour of the M@dison Building and he’s likely to begin with an invitation the 10th floor of the Compuware Building where Quicken Loans' offices showcase panoramic views of the city and a colorful, creative work environment, clearly designed to inspire collaboration and innovation. A high-energy guy, high on Detroit, Schwartz and his team have recruited an impressive number of regional, national and international companies to Detroit.  “The word’s getting out. Detroit is selling itself,” he tells us. This past summer, Quicken Loans had 8,700 applications from 157 colleges and universities for 600 full-time internships. “Our magic is starting to work,” Schwartz observes. “Students with an eye on a high-tech future are choosing Detroit, not only for a great work opportunity, but also for a great taste of the city.”

Power block
From the Compuware Building, a power walk along Woodward Avenue takes us past recent Rock Ventures building acquisitions, where reconstruction and transformation are well underway. “What the city needs now is more residential space - more affordable places to live, and we’re working on that too,” Schwartz explains. “Right here, we’re looking at new lofts and apartments, a new restaurant, new cafes, new pop-up retail and shops.”

Around the corner at 1555 Broadway, we enter the Madison Theatre Building, now known at M@dison. The bold neon signage at the doorway says it all: YOU ARE HERE.  We have arrived . . .  The concept is simple. And brilliant. Put the best and the brightest together, and create a hive of activity in a collaborative work space, designed to inspire, launch and accelerate new ideas and entrepreneurial enterprise in the heart of Detroit.

The building is a breathtaking $12 million makeover, now home to 29 high-tech, creative and entertainment companies. From its fifth-floor rooftop terrace, with a party capacity of 200, the M@dison offers a spectacular view of Comerica Park. At every turn, one finds the signature whimsy, bold graphics, artwork and sculpture, and cool office design of the Quicken Loans brand of workspace style.

First recruit, moving its 20 some employees from Royal Oak, the design company Skidmore Studio became the anchor for the M@dison Building. “Collaboration. Sounds simple, but it means everything to us,” says Skidmore CEO Tim Smith. “Moving into this space, returning to Detroit, represents a commitment to building and flourishing in our city.”

A newcomer among the third floor tenants, Andrew Landau, along with his brother Ryan, recently launched a company called Chalkfly, to change the experience of buying office supplies online. “The Chalkfly team has had an incredible experience working in the M@dison Building,” says Landau. “Leaders like Dan Gilbert and Josh Linkner have laid the groundwork for an entrepreneurial renaissance that is taking place in Detroit. The creative energy and collaborative spirit of the M@dison Building creates the perfect atmosphere to build a successful business.”

Back on the street, on a noontime stroll to Campus Martius, you can’t miss the fact that the city is not only alive and kickin’, it’s hot. It’s a sunny new day, unseasonably warm on a July afternoon, the kind of afternoon that drives the office crowd outdoors.  The streets and restaurants are filled with people and you notice: the jazz band playing in the park, the variety of new restaurants, the chatter at outdoor cafe tables, the long lines forming at the new food trucks, the hustle-bustle of pedestrian traffic, bike-riders, dog-walkers, young professionals, families with kids. There’s a new pace and heartbeat on the street. It’s the heat, the energy and enterprise of the city on the rise, a new Detroit, coming to life.

 The Rock Ventures Portfolio

Over the past 25 months, more than 60 companies have moved to downtown Detroit in a number of Rock Ventures-owned buildings.
These businesses include:

1528 Woodward (45,146 sq. feet; former Arts League Building):

1. Sachse Construction: Offering premium commercial construction services nationwide.

M@dison Building (50,000 sq. feet; 100 percent occupied):

1. Twitter: A real-time information network that connects people to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news
2. Skidmore Studio: A leading creative design firm occupying an entire floor in the building
3. Detroit Venture Partners (DVP): A venture capital firm specializing in funding early stage technology businesses
4. Detroit Labs: A leader in the development of Android, iOS and web-based applications
5.UpTo: A new social platform focused on the future tense, allowing users to easily share calendar events
6. Chez Zara: A full-service espresso bar that specializes in exceptional espresso drinks and organic teas
7. Bizdom: A non-profit entrepreneurship accelerator for budding web and tech-based startups in Detroit and Cleveland (Bizdom Detroit was previously housed in Wayne State University’s Tech Town)
8. Are You a Human: The answer to frustrating CAPTCHA entries, Are You a Human uses fun games to verify the authenticity of people completing online forms
9. Doodle Home: An online interior design destination serving customers, designers and manufacturers of luxury home furnishings
10. hiredMYway : A company disrupting the traditional “job board” concept that provides an exceptionally better value and experience for both job seekers and employers
11. TextsFromLastNight (Detroit office): An accidental startup born out of a viral sensation, now one of the leading user-generated content sites for 20-somethings
12.FLUD: A news-reader application for iPad, iPhone and Android devices that helps users save time by delivering content they’re most interested in
13.Marxent Labs: Creator of ShopWith.It, a new app for social shoppers that makes it easy to take your Facebook friends shopping
14. Ludlow Ventures: An angel and seed-stage venture capital firm investing in web and digital technologies
15. Aria Ventures: A company specializing in developing and funding startup ventures
16. 313 Ventures: Stock trader-turned-angel investor, partaking in the rebuild of Detroit, one deal at a time
17. Vineyard Capital: An investment firm for later-stage private companies
18. Roqbot: A social jukebox app that lets you be the DJ at your favorite bars, restaurants, gyms and stores
19. Savorfull: Monthly samples of allergy free, nutrient dense foods, delivered right to your doorstep
20. EBLI: A proprietary system that teaches people of any age and skill level to read to their highest potential
21. Exxodus Pictures: A production company whose first feature film, Jinn, is now in post-production
22. GreenLancer: Web-based company that provides businesses a model for cutting development and engineering costs in clean energy projects
23. GumShoe: A game where players compete against friends and a community of sleuths to solve mysteries, and earn awards, social cred and the occasional real life cache along the way
24. Quikkly: Short-term deals exclusively for college students
25. Wedit: A fun, easy and affordable way to capture, edit and share wedding memories through the use of HD Flip cameras
26. Tapjoy: A mobile ad network that lets you discover apps and get in-app rewards when you engage with ads
27. Thrillist Detroit: Free weekly email that finds the best of what’s new in your neighborhood and on the web
28. Facility Matrix Group (FMG): The area’s pre-eminent provider of office furniture

Chase Tower (505,000 sq. feet; 100 percent occupied):

1. Quicken Loans: The nation’s largest online mortgage lender
2. In-House Realty: A real estate services company matching Quicken Loans clients with pre-screened agents in their community

 First National Building (800,000 sq. feet; 93 percent occupied):

1. Title Source: The largest independent provider of title insurance, property valuations and settlement services in the nation
2. Aerotek: A leading staffing agency that matches qualified candidates with top companies worldwide
3. Roasting Plant: New York-based coffee company with unique Javabot roasting technology (opening in late 2012)

Chrysler House (Former Dime Building; 320,000 sq. feet; 92 percent occupied):

1. Quicken Loans: The nation’s largest online mortgage lender
2. Chrysler Group LLC: Automotive company that produces Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Mopar, SRT and Fiat vehicles and products
3. Just Baked: Specialty cupcake shop and bakery
4. Rehmann: A company offering accounting, tax planning and financial consulting services
5. Allied Printing Company: Provides printing, information management, and warehouse and fulfillment services
6. Hubbard Snitchler & Parzianello PLC: Provides world-class legal service
7. Professional Moving company that specializes in providing local, long distance and international relocation services for people and businesses
8. Elite Fire Safety: A one-stop-shop for fire safety needs
9. EverStaff: Recruits the most skilled and qualified professionals for organizations of all sizes
10. FNC Holding Company: Provides insight into the property backing a loan with its data and analytic solutions
11. GSI: A company specializing in security, network and system integration
12. Metro Consulting: A full service civil engineering and land surveying consultancy
13. Reliance One: A full service staffing firm
14. SCI Marketview: A lead management company for automotive dealers
15. Corby Energy: Providing construction, engineering and support services to utilities and related businesses
16. Campus Commandos: Connects clients with the college demographic through the use of student brand ambassadors
17, Core Merchant: Easy and convenient credit payment solutions for businesses

Compuware (1,088,000 sq. feet; Rock Ventures leases four floors; 100 percent occupied):

1. Quicken Loans: The nation’s largest online mortgage lender
2. Rock Ventures: An umbrella entity formed to provide operational coordination, guidance and integration of Dan Gilbert’s portfolio of companies, investments and real estate
3. Fathead: The Real.Big. brand of officially licensed sports and entertainment graphics products
4. Bedrock Real Estate Services: Rock Ventures’ full service property management firm, specializing in purchasing, leasing, financing, developing and managing of commercial space
5. Rockbridge Growth Equity: A Detroit-based private equity firm that invests in mid-stage financial and business services, consumer-direct marketing, and sports, media and entertainment industries
6. Rock Gaming: A gaming partnership formed with an initial focus to develop full-service casinos in two of Ohio’s largest cities, as well as to explore other potential gaming opportunities elsewhere
7. Rock Companies: A real estate investment, development, construction and management company focusing on commercial, residential single and multi-family investments in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio
8. Quizzle: Website that gives consumers a complete understanding of their credit so they can make better financial decisions
9. Cup of Zup: Uniquely amusing pop-culture e-newsletter and website
10. Picket Report: An online neighborhood research tool

Photos: Vhenoch
Blogger's note: "The Quickening of Detroit" appears in the October issue of,  a monthly publication of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit ( VHenoch Writer & Editor) 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fast Break

Photos of the Day

According to the Jewish calendar it is the year 5773 and today is the tenth day of the month of Tishrei,  Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a day of reflection, prayer and fasting in conclusion of the Days of Awe.

It is customary in Jewish circles to wish one another a Good Yom Tov - a good day and an easy fast, for a 25-hour period from sundown-to-sundown

The concept of an easy fast - fast and easy - can be confusing. Fasting would indicate some form of deprivation and discomfort - a disconnect between two ample  and often lavish holiday meals. But in Jewish circles the greeting, "Have an easy fast,” is generally understood to mean a concern for one another’s health and wellbeing. Our way of saying: be safe, be well.  

Somber as it may seem, Yom Kippur is after all a celebration, a cessation of work, a spiritual cleansing and liberation, a wiping of the slate, a time for repentance both public and private, a time for forgiveness. 

Altogether, it’s a good day.  

Yom Kippur is a holiday, a day ultimately set aside for rejoicing, marking the fall of leaves, the turn of another season in our lives, the harvest from the seeds we’ve planted, and the ingathering of family and friends to break-the-fast.

And then we feast.

There are those of us who spend the day in synagogues, in the fold and good fellowship of our congregations.  And there are those who for one reason or another find themselves observing the holiday of their own accord, on their own terms. . . sitting at a computer, for instance, writing.  Or alone.  Or surreptitiously at work.  Attending to business as usual.  

Jews.  We’re a complicated people. We come in many flavors.  There are many streams of observance.  We live in many nations.  Some would think of us as a nation unto ourselves, which has never been the case, not even in ancient times. There are those who think of us as a threat to peace today. . . those who would prefer to spread the seeds of fear and paranoia, in a misspent form of chauvinism of one people versus another.

On this day, if we could pray for just one thing, on this day, our day of atonement,  perhaps it would be for a turning back. . . a return to moderation. 

Imagine.  The rise of power . . . of moderates.  What a revolution that could be. 

On that theme, let me direct you to the moderate view of Thomas Friedman’s piece on the Opinion Page of the New York Times today.  Backlash to the Backlash.  

Wishing you a Yom Tov. . . and an easy fast reading.  

Photos: vhenoch
Thanks for stopping by. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Uneasy Rider

Into the woods, and outta the woods, and home before . . . dark.

Who says: it’s like riding a bicycle. You never forget.

Seems I forget.  With disturbing regularity. 

I’ve never been as apprehensive to take a vacation as this time around,  but clearly I was not in in the right frame of mind and body to take “The Explorer” Six-Day Bike Trek through Sonoma and Napa Valley the last week in August.  

Yes, the trip sounds idyllic enough.  Come, “saturate your senses,” the website beckons, “with the sights, sounds and smells in one of the world’s premier bicycling regions.”  

Umm, sounds yummy.  

“A blend of panoramic views.”  True.

“Flavorful wines.”  Indeed.

“Quaint towns.”  (Sure ‘nuf, where the art of tie-dye can still be found.)

“Quiet back roads.” Not!  

( I note that those California tax dollars have not been at work on the roads of late.)

Cycling -- spinning miles over hill-and-valley for hours on end on a road bike -  that’s my husband’s passion, not exactly my idea of recreation. 

As far as I’m concerned, biking is hard work.  Hard on the legs, the shoulders, the hands and the butt. It takes my full concentration, and a bit of psyching out,  to stay up, stay on . . . and yes, to stay alive in traffic whizzing by on those “twisting byways.” 

 I confess, I don’t sleep well the night before a ride.  

Okay, I’m a wimp, a fair-weather cyclist. But I’m a good sport,  game for a good ride.  In shape - and just barely fit for a jersey - to join my husband for a bike tour.  All the better, just so long as wine and fine dining are somehow involved on a daily basis.    

And so I ride. Within reason. 

I know my limits. And I’m not afraid to impose them. I prefer corn fields and quiet (abandoned) country roads to scenic winding climbs and heart-pounding descents on hills.  I’m good to go for 20 miles, 30 if absolutely necessary to get to the nearest lunch break. Like a mule, or a horse trained for the trail, I tend to speed up on the last homing miles, at the sight of the barn, the finish line, the town center where shops and refreshments can be found.  I favor average speeds of 12 miles per hour - Only under duress or rare moments of confidence in the saddle, do I let out the brake to speeds past 20 mph.  

I hate traffic.  


Busy intersections. 

Red lights. 

Left turns.


Garbage trucks.

Speeding cars. 


I deplore wearing latex. 

 Just give me a quiet, newly paved asphalt road . . . or a beach and a cruiser. Or a golf course and a beer.

But proof that I am open to just about anything in the spirit of travel adventure, I gamely agreed to one more “cycling trip of a lifetime,” - our second trip with Trek Travel - (the first being to Tuscany, where we thoroughly enjoyed the countryside, the weather, the pasta, and the weekend in Florence).  

I remained encouraged that the experience would be good,  if not for our long and happy marriage, than at very least for “bragging  rights,” road stories recounted over cocktails, photos sent to friends, new knowledge of California wine, not to mention a long-overdue post, noting that I’m almost out of practice, having abandoned my post(s) here at "Wild Turtle" lo these many weeks.  

So with my apologies for rusty beginnings and endings, let me at least offer a glimpse of the “last leg of our trip,” on the trails through Armstrong Redwood National Forest where I spent the day, not on a bicycle, but happily and mercifully on foot, with camera in hand. 

At my (un)graceful - yet grateful age, slightly north of 60 now, there are things  I should carefully consider before embarking upon, bicycling being close to the pinnacle of the list, along with parasailing, skiing and scuba diving.  But no, I tend to keep getting back up on the bike, (even as I tend to take repeated spills, caught up in the toe clips on downward slopes).  Sporting scraped knees and bruised shins and sore thighs like a 12-year old, I go on, old bones unbroken, wondering why and whoever said riding a bike is just like . . . riding a bike.  God only knows how. . .you never forget. 

Photos: Vhenoch
With thanks for riding by