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Signs of Life in Snake-bit Detroit

A group of private investors spearheaded by Quicken founder Dan Gilbert is leading the effort for a modest recovery in snake-bit Detroit. Taking advantage of the city’s cheap real estate and generous tax breaks for development projects, these investors have ambitious plans. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Today, the district is showing signs of progress, with new tech businesses, trendy stores and rehabbed apartments occupying some of the dilapidated towers along Woodward. Huge challenges remain, however, as fear of crime continues to deter many people from living downtown or retailers from setting up there.

Earlier this month, one part of Mr. Gilbert’s plans fell into place: a $25 million federal grant for a $140 million, public-private light-rail line along Woodward that he and other business leaders backed. . . .

In 2009, Mr. Gilbert, who also owns the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers, joined the trend, pledging to move his firm’s headquarters from the suburbs to downtown, eventually bringing in more than 7,000 employees. Since then, his real-estate arm has bought 15 buildings, filling them with 65 new businesses, including Fathead, his own poster company, and an outpost of micro-blogging firm Twitter Inc.

If these plans are to succeed, the criminal class cannot be allowed to keep running the city and the state of Michigan. Federal officials will have to keep a close eye on the kleptocratic tendencies of the local Democratic machine. There will have to be tough police work as well. Crime could still kill the rally, as could the continuation of past budget policies. And behind it all, the city is still teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, which could stop any nascent recovery in its tracks.

But let’s hope these efforts pay off, and that the city’s leaders don’t mess it up. Given Detroit’s history, that is unfortunately no safe bet.

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