Dan Gilbert's eye trained on more buying, building

DETROIT (AP) - Five years after Dan Gilbert uprooted his online mortgage company from the Detroit suburbs to the troubled city, one of the most prominent players in redeveloping downtown says the deals and dirt-digging will continue.

Gilbert said he plans to add to the 78 properties he owns or controls, likely by building office and residential towers and additional acquisitions. The majority owner of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers added a contemporary design for a building on the now-cleared Hudson's site should be finalized this year, according to a recent story published in the Detroit Free Press.

Gilbert's major investment into downtown began five years ago this month, when he moved his company, Quicken Loans, and 1,700 workers - a number that's grown to roughly 12,500.

Gilbert's holdings in Detroit include the Chase Tower, First National Building, One Woodward, One Detroit Center and the Greektown Casino & Hotel. His ventures represent roughly $1.5 billion in private investment.

"After we got here with those first people we realized these beautiful buildings were available," Gilbert, who's also a venture capitalist for Detroit startups, told the newspaper. "I just didn't have any kind of clue about it. These buildings were available and obviously inexpensive and it happened very quickly."

Critics say Detroit's turnaround has favored corporations and professionals living and working downtown over most neighborhoods and residents. Some also have expressed concern about one person controlling so much of downtown.

For his part, Gilbert said "it's not as much as people think" when viewed as a percentage of downtown property. He adds that his aim is not to hold everything he buys but rather to look for opportunities to sell - "not for a profit" - to "someone who wants to own" property and shares in his vision of a lively downtown district.

Wayne State University development law professor John Mogk said worries about concentrated control come in if Gilbert isn't serving the public with his investments. So far, Mogk said, "that does not appear to be the case."

Published: Tue, Aug 18, 2015