The District Detroit Neighborhood Advisory Committee (NAC) signed on Monday, March 6, what is being called a “historic support letter” in favor of the $167 million Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the proposed District Detroit development. Held at Wayne County Community College’s Downtown Campus, the official signing followed NAC’s 8-1 vote in late February to approve the massive CBA, a momentous step forward to breaking ground on the much-talked-about District Detroit development, a partnership venture between Olympia Development of Michigan and New York City-based Related Companies.
The Michigan Chronicle obtained a copy of the three-page support letter and 11-page CBA outlining the community benefits obligations associated with the future District Detroit project. Benefits in the Agreement included, but were not limited to, spending a minimum of $100 million with disadvantaged businesses in Detroit, creating a physical space to connect Detroiters to the developers for housing, employment, and business opportunities, acceptance of tenants utilizing Section 8 Vouchers in all affordable units with tenants having the Right to Renew , offering 20% of residential units at rates no more than 50% of the Area Median Income, creating a Tenant Improvement Fund for disadvantaged and emerging entrepreneurs renting space in District Detroit properties, and developers’ commitments to partner with local emerging developers on three projects in District Detroit.
In addition, developers made commitments to buy artwork from local Black and Hispanic artists for display in District Detroit, renovate Cass Tech High School’s football field and athletic facilities, redesign Cass Park and Brush Park, and fund $1.5 million for a Fast Track pre-apprenticeship training program for Detroiters in collaboration with Detroit at Work.
“This is the most extensive and comprehensive CBA that has ever been negotiated in the history of Detroit,” Chris Jackson, chair of District Detroit’s NAC, told the Michigan Chronicle. “It far exceeds any agreement that I’ve seen as a developer that the private sector has committed to. There are negotiated commitments never before included in a Detroit Community Benefits Agreement.”
Jackson said Detroit is the largest city in the nation with a Community Benefits Ordinance process guaranteeing residents benefits from all large developments of $75 million or more when developers ask for tax breaks and incentives from the City. To negotiate benefits, Jackson said a nine-member Neighborhood Advisory Council is formed in the designated community where the development will occur.
In the case of District Detroit, CBA meetings, facilitated by the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department, were held for more than two months at Cass Tech, located in the impact development area.
“The meetings were open to the general public, where people could come, speak, and ask questions,” Jackson said. “The developers presented their project, and the NAC asked questions as we began to negotiate extra things that we wanted them to do in this project for the community inside District Detroit.”
With the successful negotiations reached between NAC and District Detroit developers – Olympia Development of Michigan and the Related Companies – culminating at the March 6 signing, the next step, said Jackson, is for the CBA to go to City Council for a hearing on March 9. Jackson is hopeful a favorable Council vote will soon follow. The Council, at some point, will also review and vote on the developers’ requests for tax breaks and incentives estimated at close to $800 million.
District Detroit is a partnership venture between Olympia Development of Michigan and Related Companies. The latter is owned by University of Michigan alum and Detroit-born Stephen M. Ross. The proposed District Detroit deal, reported at $1.5 billion, projects the construction and operation of 10 renovated historic or new projects, including four mixed-income residential buildings, four commercial office buildings, two hotels, open public and green spaces. Among the grand plan is the $250 million construction cost of the Detroit Center for Innovation, a three-building complex for high-tech research, education, and entrepreneurship programs for University of Michigan students and non-students. Ross committed to donating $100 million for the center’s construction.
When the entire District Detroit is completed, it will cover 50 blocks with borders purported to be John C. Lodge Expressway (west), I-75 (east), Mack Ave. (north), and Grand Circus Park (south). District Detroit is estimated to be fully completed in 2028 or 2029.
While District Detroit may finally be on its way to fruition, some skepticism of the CBA signed recently lingers.
“This is a very bad deal and one of the worst Community Benefits Agreements that we’ve seen,” said Linda Campbell, Director of Detroit People’s Platform. “53% of the project cost will be reimbursed by the taxpayers. This project could be funded by the likes of Steven Ross and Olympia Development. These are multi-billionaires. They are using public tax money to subsidize their private wealth and private profits.”
With the Community Benefits Agreement headed to City Council, Campbell said her organization, whose mission is to advance racial and economic justice in the community through building grassroots power, will be there.
“We will speak before City Council and let them know that we think the CBA doesn’t serve Detroiters,” Campbell told the Chronicle. “I’m not sure what the Council will do. They probably will not undo what NAC has done, but there may be an opportunity for the Council to do some type of supplemental Community Benefits Agreement.”
While the District Detroit project, as conceptualized a decade ago, didn’t get completely off the ground, several significant pieces of the development puzzle were constructed, including Little Caesars Arena (2017), the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University (2018), and Little Caesar’s World Headquarters (2021).
“More now than ever before, people are looking for dynamic, walkable neighborhoods that have great places to work, mixed-income living options, and an abundance of culture, dining and retail in close proximity,” Ross said in a statement published by Ilitch Companies’ Online News Hub. “Working with Olympia Development on the Detroit Center for Innovation, it was immediately apparent how much opportunity there is to build on their progress in The District Detroit…and there’s no place I’d rather be realizing this vision than in my hometown.”