U of M to expand Detroit footprint with research and education center

Detroit Center for Innovation rendering | University of Michigan photo

Plans for the new $300 million Detroit Center for Innovation (DCI) were unveiled Wednesday morning.

Several elected officials were on hand downtown, along with billionaire philanthropist Stephen Ross; Matt Cullen, Bedrock CEO; and University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel.

Detroit Center for Innovation rendering | University of Michigan photo

DCI would be a 190,000 square-foot research and education center sitting on 14 acres and operated by U of M. It will be the centerpiece of the first phase of a planned multi-building development at the east edge of downtown and will offer programs that focus on high-tech research, education and innovation, officials said.

“The Detroit Center for Innovation combines vision, leadership and a deep commitment to this city and state, and I am very appreciative of the efforts of all involved,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “This is an exciting opportunity for students around the world and is an exclamation point on Michigan’s efforts to build, attract and retain the best workforce in America.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, June 3, 2019 | Derek Robertson

She was joined by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. The facility will eventually serve up to 1,000 graduate and senior-level undergraduate students pursuing advanced degrees in a range of high-tech innovation disciplines, including mobility, artificial intelligence, data science, entrepreneurship, sustainability, cybersecurity, financial technology and more.

Development of the academic building will be made possible by a major gift from Ross, who envisioned DCI and is a long-term benefactor of U of M and a native Detroiter, and leadership gifts from Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, as well as other public and private funders.

The initial phase of the DCI build-out also will include incubator and start up services for entrepreneurs, collaboration space for established companies, residential units, a hotel and conference center and event space. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan | Ken Coleman

The new multi-building complex will be located at the site of the former Wayne County Jail project at Gratiot Avenue and St. Antoine Street and serve as a new gateway to Detroit’s burgeoning downtown, connecting the central business district and Greektown to Lafayette Park and Eastern Market.

“Detroit has always been a leader in innovation and this new center will help ensure that continues to be the case into the future,” said Duggan. “It also sends a powerful message to our young people about the city we are trying to build together. Instead of turning this property into a place where Detroiters are taken to be incarcerated, we are going to build for them one of the finest learning centers anywhere, filled with hope and real opportunity.”

Duggan, Evans and other project partners will take the next 90 to 180 days to assess the feasibility of the overall project and conduct community engagement with surrounding neighborhoods. Construction for the Detroit Center for Innovation is slated to commence in 2021.

Stephen Ross | Wikimedia Commons

Ross, a U of M alumnus whose name adorns its business school, said he sees this commitment as a way of giving back to the city of his youth.

“The Center has the potential to not only attract new businesses to Detroit, but the school and its graduates will generate new ideas, new companies and new opportunities for the community, the city and the region,” said Ross, who owns the Miami Dolphins and has stakes in companies including SoulCycle.

While the U of M academic center will provide instruction at the Detroit Center for Innovation, degrees and certificates will be awarded by the Ann Arbor campus. It is designed to serve U of M or other students in the last year of their undergraduate program, as well as people seeking graduate degrees or stackable certificates. When opened, the Center will provide Michigan businesses a pipeline of talent and offer opportunities for current workers to further their skills in a world of fast-paced technological change.

“The Detroit Center for Innovation is just the latest part of a thriving ecosystem of U of M engagement with the city of Detroit and its people,” Schlissel said. “Our work involves collaborations that support a broad array of our state’s and communities’ needs, and the foundations for these partnerships began years, or even decades, ago through connections with local leaders, public schoolteachers, businesses and community advocates.”

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel | Wikimedia Commons

In 2018, Bedrock announced that it acquired the Gratiot site from Wayne County after agreeing to build a new $533 million criminal justice center near Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood. Since acquiring the site, Bedrock demolished the half-built jail structure and is currently using the site to support construction related to other in-progress developments in downtown Detroit.

“Acquiring the Gratiot site was a priority for us as Dan [Gilbert] had always envisioned it as a gateway to the city. He knew that the perfect development would not only activate the site, but be a catalyst for the entire City,” said Cullen.

The development of the Detroit Center for Innovation will be publicly reviewed by the Wayne County Commission, which will play a vital role in transferring the land for the project from Bedrock to U of M.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans  | Ken Coleman

“As the project progresses, it is now our responsibility to ensure this is an inclusive institution that any student in the city and county can aspire to attend,” said Evans.

“I look forward to working with our partners to ensure students of all backgrounds and income levels have a viable path to study and grow here.”

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.