The Quickening of Detroit

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.

You Are Here_Madison lobby sign
You Are Here: neon and a bold graphic map of Detroit proudly orient visitors to the new M@dison Building, 1555 Broadway Street.

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

Bisdom posterOne 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

Bruce Schwartz
Detroit Relocation Ambassador, Bruce Schwartz

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.

A high tech work hubThe 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.”

Andrew Landau of Chalkfly
Andrew Landau of Chalkfly

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):

Workspace designed to inspire creativity1. 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