Detroit City – 21st Century Reinvention

Detroit is back BIGTIME!

Detroit's regeneration follows a major economic and demographic decline across the city in recent decades – caused by the departure of automobile production. The once famed Motor city, birthplace to Motown music and capital of the Art Deco Architecture phenomena fell upon  hard times in the 90’s and early 2000’s, at one point even declaring bankruptcy. But you can’t keep a good city down and the people of Detroit have proven once again that they are America’s most industrious, innovative and passionate people when it comes to love for their city. Detroit has emerged on a new footing over the past five years and is now on a roll. When you visit Detroit you feel as though you are in a great historic city. And you are. Much of Detroit is defined by the Art Deco movement that swept across America in the in the 1920s and ’30s, and the city’s skyline features the best of that style and period. The buildings are still awe inspiring and as part of the city’s rejuvenation most of them have been lovingly restored to their original state with modern amenities. One of those restored buildings is  The Aloft Hotel, located on the corner of Park and Woodward Avenue  in Detroit’s historic David Whitney Building. With its four-storey, marble lobby the architecture is like no other accommodation or hotel in the city. The building’s original detailing remains intact and is beautifully contrasted with the modern décor of the rooms.  My room overlooked Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team. The Comercia Stadium opened in 2000 as part of a downtown revitalization plan for    Detroit, which included the construction of Ford Field, adjacent to the park.  I was never a fan of watching baseball until I went to a Detroit Tigers game at Comercia park. The design is intimate and modern but you feel like you are in a 1950s setting, close to the players and the field. It could be all the brickwork or the lights and airy stadium. There is a magic and nostalgia to the place. It certainly is a contrast to the cavernous, impersonal Rogers Stadium in Toronto, home to Canada’s famous Toronto Blue Jays team. The Jays could learn something from Detroit about how to build a fan-friendly ball park.

Many of Detroit’s magnificent Art Deco buildings are within walking distance of one another. It was an easy and pleasant walk from our hotel on Woodward Avenue to three of the best. Closest to the river and perhaps the building most people think of when it comes to Detroit Art Deco is the Guardian Building at 500 Griswold St, completed in 1929 and originally named the Union Trust Building. Designed by Wirt C. Rowland of the Smith, Hinchman & Grylls firm, its exterior features ornate limestone and terra cotta. Be sure to go inside to see the stunningly decorated three-story vaulted lobby. As we walked along marveling at these wondrous buildings, the cafes, restaurants and shops were busy with customers in their mid-morning stride. A new streetcar whizzes by. This is a city looking forward while embracing the best of its past. Nothing says that more than the approval by Detroit City Council in March of a plan to replace the historic Hudson's department store site, in the heart of Downtown Detroit. The J L Hudson Building, was designed and built in the early 20th century – during the Motor City's heyday. It wasn't just a department store – it was the economic engine and the heat of Detroit. The store closed in 1983, as the city went into decline, and the building was eventually demolished between 1997 and 1998. Since then, the lot where is stood has been vacant. The new building to replace it will begin construction in December and become the Detroit's tallest building. It will encompass the entire previous Hudson site and the developer’s goal is to create a development that exceeds the economic and experiential impact Hudson's had on the city in its heyday. The city believe the project will    put Detroit back on the national – and even global – map for world-class architecture, talent attraction, technology innovation and job creation." SHoP Architects of New York are leading the project.

Besides the awe inspiring beauty of the city’s architecture, Detroit offers so much to see and do. Parks, restaurants, sports, art, culture, museums. This city is on a roll and is at the forefront of the innovation that is driving the U.S. economy in the 21st century. Don’t take my word for it – visit Detroit, and when you do, here are a few gems to take in when you go.  

Heidelberg project: In the heart of Detroit’s urban area lies an outdoor art environment that is redefining run-down neighbourhoods. With a unique sense of creativity, The Heidelberg Project artist, Tyree Guyton, has transformed his neighbourhood into an outdoor art gallery.  His work represents both the decline of old Detroit and the promise of the renewed and reframed 21st century Detroit.

Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation:  Earlier this year the Henry Ford Museum changed its name to reflect the museum’s collection of and core focus on innovation. Now named the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, this is very well the most popular tourist destination for those visiting Dearborn, Michigan. Inside the museum one is immersed in a history of American innovation as the museum’s collection of artifacts and exhibits showcase innovation from railroad and auto to aviation and agriculture. I’ve been to many museums all over America over the years but I have to say this is my favourite. It’s a trip through 19th century America that reminds us where the term “The Greatest Generation came from. One of the more commanding exhibits is the actual limo that John Kennedy was driving in when he was assassinated. The limo seems so much smaller than I thought it was. I had no idea it was refurbished and put back into service after Kennedy’s shooting. There are all kinds of tidbits and trivia at this wonderful spot.

Ford’s Research and Innovation Center: While visiting the Ford Motor Company’s Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn I learned that Ford was the first automaker to pilot the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D Printer. This technology is capable of printing automotive parts and is considered to be a breakthrough in automotive manufacturing. Ellen Lee, Ford technical leader additive manufacturing research says, “We’re excited to have early access to Stratasys’ new technology to help steer development of large-scale printing for automotive applications and requirements.” This is one of dozens of FORD innovation projects that are revolutionizing transportation in the 21st century. Ford has doubled down on its famous HQ in Michigan and is currently building a brand new global 21st Century Ford Innovation Centre in Dearborn.

Shinola: Shinola LLC is an American luxury lifestyle brand which specializes in watches, bicycles, and leather goods. Founded in 2011, its name is a nod to the former Shinola shoe polish company that operated in the early and mid-20th century. The company is owned and operated by Bedrock Brands, a privately owned Texas investment group, and was launched by Tom Kartsotisone of the founders of the Fossil Group retail conglomerate. Shinola is a watch factory and although they are proud of their product, they pride themselves most in providing American jobs. Their Detroit watch factory embodies the Motor City narrative of innovation. They made a conscious decision to set up their watch factory, in Detroit in the historic (and recently renovated) Argonaut Building. To build out the watch factory, the company partnered with Ronda, which also brought in expert watchmaking veterans to train Shinola's watch assemblers, all of whom had no prior experience in watchmaking. Currently, the factory has the capacity to produce 500,000 watches a year. Most of the workers assembling watches are local Detroiters, and many of them come from the auto business. Since the company's founding in 2011, it has grown to over 400 people.

Detroit Denim jeans: So there was this guy named Eric Yelsma’s who had a dream to make something great. He thought, good enough is not enough. That’s why his jeans are like no other. Detroit Denim jeans are the culmination of uncompromised quality, US-sourced, selvedge jeans made in Detroit. Now I like jeans and have always been fond of what I considered the real deal – which was Levi 501’s. However this guy convinced me that I was wrong and that his jeans are the best quality jean in the world. And I am not kidding you when I say unfettered that they absolutely are the best and most comfortable and durable jeans you will ever wear. The only thing that came close to topping  his jean clothing line was his men’s fragrance called "diesel being poured on a pine tree and lit with a cigar". And YES, it smells exactly like that!

Third Man records: Third man records opened a state-of-the-art vinyl production facility in the heart of Detroit’s historic Cass Corridor neighborhood in February 2017. This meticulously designed boutique vinyl record production facility features  a unique customer experience and provides guided tours  featuring  the history vinyl records, the beauty of record sounds and production and the continuing importance and place of vinyl records when it comes to recorded music.  As the first label to operate a fleet of brand new, environmentally efficient pressing machinery within a purpose-built manufacturing infrastructure, Third Man Pressing minimizes water waste by using recycled water from the record curing process in the air conditioning system, thus creating the only fully climate-controlled pressing plant work environment in the world. Each pressing station is outfitted with a digital touch screen control for temperature, hydraulic compression, and extruder speed, equaling increased control for the highly trained staff as well as a superior product. The plant was engineered to not only be environmentally sustainable, but also community sensitive with its innovative noise reduction construction techniques. Third Man  Records  bring classic vinyl music back to the future and to do it in Detroit , a city rich in musical talent and with a storied musical history.

Wright and Co: A cool vibe, with a lively environment, this restaurant is on the second floor of a beautifully renovated building downtown (on Woodward just a block from Comerica Park). They don't take reservations but you can go to the bar and hang out while having some great craft cocktails served by a professional and friendly staff.  The menu of small tapas type plates offers tasty fare. I loved the   delicious gnocchi and the flavorful pork. The food, service, and location were top.