Once Again, Detroit Talks About Removing Abandoned Buildings

A prominent developer adds his voice to those saying the city should tear down blighted buildings to help improve the economy.

Posted: 09/18/2013 02:48 PM EDT

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan (Photo: AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The topic of Detroit’s huge number of abandoned buildings has again become highly discussed in the financially troubled city.

Just this week, Dan Gilbert, a prominent businessman and developer in Detroit, championed the idea of removing nearly 80,000 abandoned buildings from blighted areas in the city.

Gilbert, speaking at Wayne State University in Detroit, said that tearing down the abandoned buildings was a critical step in rebuilding the city.

“Once we can get that done, you’re going to have open pieces of land and you’re going to have, more importantly, open optimism,” Gilbert said.

“I was at the White House a couple weeks ago. We were talking to several secretaries in the cabinet about this very issue,” he said. “There is money available to do this. It’s just a matter of getting the infrastructure in place and getting ourselves in a position to make it happen.”

The issue of abandoned buildings has long been a problem in Detroit. As the automobile economy declined, Detroit’s residents moved out of the city in large numbers. The city, which had nearly 2 million residents in 1950, now has around 700,000 people.

There has been much in Detroit about moving residents out of largely abandoned areas and relocating them to more highly populated sections of the city.

Gilbert is the founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, the large online retail mortgage lender. He is also the majority owner of the National Basketball Association's Cleveland Cavaliers and the American Hockey League's Lake Erie Monsters.

He is also a principal of Detroit Venture Partners, a venture capital firm that funds start-up and early-stage technology companies in Detroit.

How much money, if any, the city could contribute to removing the buildings remains unclear. Detroit filed for bankruptcy this summer, which has placed the city’s financial matters in a complex procedure.

However, Detroit is set to receive $52 million of the $100 million in federal money that was directed earlier this year to Michigan for blight removal. The funds represent unspent money from the Hardest Hit Fund, which was set up under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

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