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Billionaire Dan Gilbert announces $500 million investment in Detroit neighborhoods

Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Tying his own recovery to Detroit's, billionaire Dan Gilbert spoke Thursday on "CBS This Morning" about his comeback from a stroke nearly two years ago — and made an announcement to invest $500 million over the next decade in Detroit.

The first $15 million is earmarked to help cover delinquent property tax in the city, a problem he said contributed to blight, vacancies, and foreclosures.

"We'd like to see the people of Detroit benefit," he said, describing his plan, which he hopes will continue to rebuild the city. "When you're at the energy level of downtown right now, we can carry that to the neighborhoods," which would give the whole city a boost.

The money is expected to pay taxes for about 20,000 homes, with the aim of creating wealth in the city.

Billed as his first major — and exclusive — TV interview, Gilbert and his wife, Jennifer, spoke at their suburban Detroit home to CBS correspondent Dana Jacobson.

The 59-year-old owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and co-founder of mortgage giant Quicken Loans has made few public appearances since his hospitalization at Beaumont's Royal Oak hospital in 2019. According to news reports, He had an ischemic stroke in the right side of his brain, according to news reports.

As a result, he said he experienced paralysis of the left side of his body and is undergoing physical therapy.

"Luckily," he joked, "I'm a righty."

Gilbert, an enterprising businessman who started making money as a kid selling candy and pizzas he cooked in his kitchen, has been credited with helping to rejuvenate downtown Detroit, which for many years seemed to lack vitality.

In 2010, he moved his company's headquarters from the suburbs to downtown, and since then has purchased and developed more than 100 Detroit properties, rehabbing them and filling them with retailers, renters, and office tenants.

He also has promised to turn downtown into a walkable urban center with public plazas and a skyscraper — Hudson Tower — that would be a "landmark destination."

To do so, however, he was able to persuade Detroit and state officials to give his development companies free land and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives, according to a Free Press investigation. And the pandemic has been challenging to downtown business owners.

 

In 2020, about nine months after his stroke, Gilbert rolled up in a wheelchair on a ballroom stage at MGM Grand Detroit to receive a lifetime achievement award during the Crain's Newsmakers of the Year luncheon, and he stood up to deliver a 20-minute speech.

He joked that "it’s been long enough where I’ve already had a baby."

In that address, he also reflected on the many changes in Detroit since 2007 and was joined by New York real estate developer Stephen Ross, who is partnering with him to build an "Innovation Center" for the University of Michigan at the downtown site of the failed Wayne County jail project.

Ross, for whom U-M's business school is named, said he would contribute $100 million toward the project.

In Thursday's interview, Gilbert talked about the night he had his stroke, saying that at first his vision blurred, and he happened to be with a friend who was an emergency room doctor and went to the hospital right away.

"I'm feeling good, I'm getting better," Gilbert said. "It's like an inch a day. It's like a marathon."

He said that the stroke has been more challenging mentally, because "you always ask yourself every day, 'Is this ever going to be over, and you hope it will be."

He also said that when you have a stroke it affects the whole family.

"America loves a comeback story, right?" Gilbert said.

Jacobson replied: "You already knew that with the Cavs, come on."

Jennifer Gilbert added that the lesson that they learned from the experience is that "the only thing that matters is your health and your loved ones. You can't control bad things from happening, but you control how you respond to them."

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