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Detroit Vies With Silicon Valley for Auto Industry’s Future

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan kicked off a citywide speech by focusing on the importance of the Michigan Central Depot train station revival and how "Detroit will pass Silicon Valley" in the future of the auto industry.

(TNS) — Mayor Mike Duggan promised community improvements and continued economic revival Tuesday during his State of the City address inside the Michigan Central Depot, saying the former train station was once "a national symbol of despair" but will become the "center of one of the most exciting cities in all of America" this July when it reopens.

Duggan kicked off his 10th citywide speech by focusing on the importance of the train station and how "Detroit will pass Silicon Valley" in the future of the auto industry. During his hourlong address, the third-term mayor also outlined a 10-step plan to improve neighborhoods, touted "essential" tax abatements for development projects and unveiled a "Shotstoppers" program to address gun violence.

After an intro performance from the Detroit Youth Choir, Duggan took the stage inside the grand lobby of the restored train station, a future hub for Ford Motor Co. focusing on advancing technology and programs that address barriers to mobility in Corktown. Beside him on stage sat the nine Detroit City Council members.

The mayor also emphasized the auto industry by holding the previous two pandemic-era State of the City addresses virtually from GM's Factory Zero and the Stellantis Jeep assembly plant. The former Michigan Central Depot was chosen for this year's speech as a sign of rebirth "of an international symbol of Detroit's decline," the mayor's office said.

In 2017, Detroit was losing the battle for the future of the automobile to Silicon Valley, Duggan said, "but we fought back hard landing a $2.2 billion investment from GM in its first all-electric factory in America."

He touted the landing of Google's startup Waymo to assemble its self-driving cars in the city, and then in 2018, Ford's new location for designing all-electric vehicles with 5,000 jobs to flood the abandoned train station. Now, the Dearborn automaker is building a campus that's expected to open later this year. Its next-door innovation center will house dozens of mobility companies and tech startups, the mayor said 14th Street will become America's first public charging road with wireless, underground coils to charge electric cars.

On Michigan Avenue, in front of the train station, Michigan's Department of Transportation is building the first autonomous car lane, which will run to Ann Arbor.

Duggan revisited Jeep's announcement to introduce four all-electric SUVs in North America and Europe by 2025. The maker of Jeep SUVs and Ram pickup trucks said they wanted U.S. dealers to get the infrastructure to support electrification as the automaker is on a mission to make full EVs half of its sales by 2030.

"The momentum for the future is in Detroit," Duggan said.

Duggan switched gears to say that when development happens in Detroit, the focus is on the entire neighborhood and a community benefits plan was approved by a committee of neighborhood representatives. In Corktown, that meant 600 new units of affordable housing and protecting 87 low-income units in Clement Kern Gardens by renovating their units without a rent increase. At the former Owen School site, in north Corktown, an economic empowerment center and a new park for children are being built.

He highlighted that these developments would tie Corktown to Southwest Detroit, where a corridor has been transformed into the Bagley streetscape. Businesses like AGI Construction moved in to create a tech hub to train Detroiters and Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation's Fantazma Market is spotlighting local entrepreneurs.

"I still really believe that every neighborhood has a future," Duggan said. "Our progress has been dramatic."

The mayor outlined a 10-step plan to further improve neighborhoods that includes:

1. Clearing 1,000 overgrown alleys this year.

2. Doubling the Detroit Public Work cleanups by removing garbage dumped in neighborhoods.

3. Returning bulk pickup every week. Bidding contracts for bulk pickup will start this year.

4. Spend $25 million to replace 70,000 broken sidewalk slabs this year.

5. Expanding the Neighborhood Beautification Program with $500-$15,000 grants to improve Land Bank properties. Last year, $500,000 was awarded to 34 block clubs to beautify neighborhoods.

6. Help nonprofits renovate abandoned homes for low-income families. The final plan is expected to come from Council Member Latisha Johnson in May, Duggan said. "We will take land bank houses, give it to community groups and churches for up to $75,000 if you promise to rent it out," Duggan said.

7. Provide legal help for homeowners to transfer wealth to heirs. Tangled titles occur when a house passes to the next generation without a will or official transfer of title. Council member Scott Benson is behind this initiative.

8. Replace roofs for 2,000 low-income seniors and disabled residents through Renew Detroit.

9. Motor City Makeover this year will distribute 90,000 flowers for neighborhood planting in May.

10. Turn 27 miles of dumping sites into the Joe Louis Greenway, which is expected to be completed in 2027.

The mayor also outlined a $10 million anti-crime initiative, while acknowledging that shootings are not dropping fast enough from a surge experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The most important thing we can do for our neighborhoods is make them safer," Duggan said. "During the pandemic, we couldn't put 12 jurors in a room together and that led to a three-year backlog of cases ... which led to a spike in crime and vacancies in the police department."

The number of violent crimes in Detroit dropped 16.5% in late 2022 compared with the same time a year prior, while property crimes rose 22%, according to a recent Federal Bureau of Investigation report.

Detroit police wages are not keeping up with suburbs, leaving 300 vacancies in the state's largest police department, the mayor said. In November, officers approved a new union contract with a record $10,000 annual pay increase.

"The kind of violence we're seeing ... we don't care enough about each other," Duggan said. "The officers have the ability to take the gun out of the shooter's hands, but they don't have the ability to take the anger out of the shooter's heart."

One way to fight this, the mayor said, is a community violence intervention program that will give financial incentives to churches and other nonprofits to help reduce homicides and non-fatal shootings.

Under the initiative, the city will contract with agencies that will be assigned zones in high-crime neighborhoods, with the goal of reducing homicides and nonfatal shootings in those areas. Agencies that reach the benchmarks will be awarded more money to put back into those programs, while those that don't meet the goals will lose funding, Deputy Mayor Todd Bettison told The Detroit News.

Starting Wednesday, neighborhoods can submit proposals to be "Shotstoppers" by proposing a gun violence zone where their group will measure whether violence increases or decreases. The two-year contract will be for $700,000 per year. Groups that succeed will get an additional $700,000 per year to expand services.

"What if we took groups who know that history and could they reach out and defuse some of this?" Duggan said. "We don't know if it's going to work, but we're going to try. We will give you time, two years to get embedded and if your shootings go down, we will give you another $700,000 to expand. Can we change senseless shootings? We're going to try."

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans is also leading a coordinated county, city, state and court effort to reduce the pandemic backlog of gun cases.

District 7 City Councilman Fred Durhal III said he is excited about their efforts to tackle gun violence but said he will be advocating for more disability and retiree services during budget hearings.

"There's going to be a lot of talk about water, home repair for seniors and retirees, basically everything we constantly hear in public comment," Durhal said after the speech. "Sometimes we differ on approaches and we'll go back and take a look and meet in the middle."

Meanwhile, Andrew Thompson, a Hubbard Farms resident, protested with a handful of people along Michigan Avenue to advocate for more Detroit Department of Transportation funding.

"The bus is my main form of transportation and I teach part-time in Ann Arbor so I take a combination of DDOT buses, the Regional Transit Authority buses, sometimes I'm taking Amtrak, sometimes Grayhound to get to and from work," said Thompson, 41. "I support bus drivers getting paid more and they need to be paid for helping keep the city running. It's not living up to the schedule and standards they had in the past. On certain routes, there might be three or four buses an hour and now they're down to two or one bus. Just today, I was trying to take a bus and there wasn't one on the tracker, so I just walked 30 minutes to get to a grocery store."

Duggan said the city would be increasing the pay of DDOT drivers in the upcoming budget to remain competitive. He also added there would be "no financial doomsday for Detroit" during his $2.6 billion budget presentation.

Stacy Jackson grew up on the east side across the street from the Chrysler Assembly Plant and said she hasn't seen improvement to the neighborhood or any environmental offsets from the automotive company. But "it's not too late to do something with the neighborhood about this," she said.

"The east side didn't get first dibs from Chrysler or we would have advocated for more environmental or STEM givebacks to our youth. Why can't we use the library for more tech programming?" said Jackson, 38. "Other similar programs are happening. Ford Motor has an engineering and FIRST Robotics program at the Detroit Hispanic Development Corp. in Southwest and the Monteith Library would be the perfect place for Chrysler to fund similar programming. It's the least they could do."

In 2014, the city sought to tackle more than 40,000 vacant houses. In November 2020, voters passed Proposal N, the $250 million bond initiative to demolish thousands of blighted homes.

By the end of 2024, it's possible the land bank will not own any vacant houses, Duggan said. He also requested another $13 million for residential demolition and asked the council if the city should take responsibility for private abandoned houses.

It's not the first time a mayor promised to rid Detroit of blight. In 1965, then-Mayor Jerry Cavanagh promised to rid Detroit of abandoned homes, Duggan said.

The land bank has demolished 24,000 homes and sold and rehabbed 16,000 homes. There are 7,000 vacant homes left under land bank ownership. Last year, Duggan said, more vacant homes were rehabbed than demolished. The city is selling 200 homes each month on

He said the remaining 7,000 abandoned homes will be tackled this year and they're sorting out how to move on privately abandoned homes, which he estimates are about 5,000 in the city.

"We've started taking legal action on those that can be saved and rehabbed, with the goal of having them demolished or occupied by the end of 2025," Duggan said.

He attributed demolition efforts to the first rise of home values in 2015, but unevenly. But this year, home values have more than doubled in the last five years, Duggan said, citing land bank and Multiple Listing Service statistics. This has led to more homeowners in a majority-renter city.

"We're far from finished," Duggan said. "I've never had a council with so many ideas and their ideas are next."

A large portion of the speech focused on major development projects that have played in the city's revenue growth and how incentives played a role in landing them.

The city does not give businesses cash in tax incentives, Duggan reiterated. He justified tax abatements by explaining developers pay taxes when projects are being built and tax abatements are a discount on the new taxes as an incentive to land more projects in Detroit, where taxes are 87 mills compared to 57 mills in Novi. He highlighted turning the abandoned Cadillac Stamping Plant into a new Lear Stamping Plant, the former Kettering School into the Dakkota Factory, and the abandoned Hudson site into what is supposed to be the second-tallest skyscraper in Michigan.

On District Detroit, the economic development project will take vacant parking lots and build four office buildings, two hotels and 700 apartments, with 20% being retained as affordable. When it's completed, it's expected to be a $1.5 billion investment, 12,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs, Duggan said.

"In the last week, we've had 12 new affordable housing projects," Duggan said. "We're building at a rate the rest of the country envies. We (City Council and I) have never been more united on an issue than affordable housing."

The mayor also shared highlights surrounding making recreational cannabis businesses equitable. In December, Detroit awarded its first 33 recreational marijuana retail licenses, 56% to Detroiters.

"Where we are standing right now was a national symbol of despair, but we are going to invite those folks back in July because this July this site is going to be the center of one of the most exciting cities in all of America," Duggan said to conclude his speech.

© 2023 The Detroit News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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