'Policy wonk' - Public finance attorney helped on Cobo Center, Metro Airport and more


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Jeffrey Aronoff refers to himself as a “Policy wonk – or at least I try to be one,” he says.

“There’s a special excitement when essentially every deal you work on is a public policy matter for your client,” says Aronoff. “There’s a special joy that comes from working with clients who are literally building community.”

A member of the Public Finance Group in Miller Canfield’s Detroit office, Aronoff specializes in all types of public finance, including municipal infrastructure finance, economic development finance and school finance. He also regularly advises governmental clients on general matters including economic development initiatives, public-private collaboration, legislative drafting, and the establishment and ongoing operation of intergovernmental and regional authorities.

Aronoff was deeply involved in working with the authority that redeveloped and controls Detroit’s Cobo Center, from drafting the authority’s enabling legislation, to assisting the authority through its incorporating proceedings, and finally working on the bond deal to finance the improvements.

“Just a fascinating time in my career, and a client that was just a blast to work with,” he says. 

He also was a member of the Miller Canfield team serving as bond counsel to the Wayne County Airport Authority as it restructured more than $1 billion in bonds originally issued to finance the construction of two new terminals and related improvements.

“The finance work I’ve been able to do with the Wayne County Airport Authority has been a similar joy—fascinating issues, razor sharp clients and opposing parties, an important asset for our region—just a lot of fun. The public finance practice is so uniquely exciting, and Cobo and the airport are great examples of that.”

Aronoff enjoys the vast variety in public finance work.

“You might spend an hour on a call with a cast of finance wizards working through a complex deal for a big client like Cobo or the airport, then immediately turn to a deal where you’re assisting a small community looking to purchase a fire truck or re-pave the main road running through its downtown,” he explains.

“Those clients might not have the same complexity or resources as the bigger ones, but they face the same rules and are similarly passionate trustees of public health, safety and welfare. You’re providing advice on a lot of similar issues, but in a totally different context. I can’t think of many practice areas where you get that kind of variety.”

Named among Michigan Super Lawyers-Rising Stars 2009-2011, Aronoff was honored in 2011 with a Marshall Memorial Fellowship, and traveled with other emerging American leaders to Brussels, Stockholm, Madrid, Sofia and Berlin to exchange ideas and best practices with European counterparts.

“Our co-host is still close to this day – in fact, we have a reunion in Detroit this September, and we’re going to show off the city a bit,” he says.

After 7-1/2 years at Miller Canfield, in 2012 Aronoff took a position as executive director of D:hive, a nonprofit focused on helping newcomers get connected—and existing residents get more deeply connected—to the civic, cultural, business and social opportunities in Detroit.

After D:hive’s three-year funding grant expired, the nonprofit broke up into two entities, and Aronoff founded Sidewalk Ventures in January 2015, helping local businesses raise growth capital from community-based investors. 

“I had the privilege of working with Detroit City Football Club as it raised well over $700,000 from more than 500 investors, in an unprecedented community-based investment campaign, where community support crossed paths with meaningful economic return for investors,” he says.

Aronoff, who returned to Miller Canfield in January, explains that his law practice, D:hive and Sidewalk Ventures all orbit around a common theme:  Building community.     

“Sometimes that involves financing the stuff under the ground. Sometimes it involves animating the stuff above the ground. Sometimes it involves providing resources and connections to the people walking the ground,” he explains.

“I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life, born raised and educated here. I take pride in all it has to offer and find it immensely satisfying to be able to work on projects and with people that influence the quality of life here.”

Aronoff’s career path started with an undergrad degree in social science from Michigan State University.

“I’m a Spartan—that’s my identity,” he says. “MSU is such a unique campus – it reflects so much of what makes our state special. I’ve always been struck by the fact that every tree native to Michigan can be found on MSU’s campus.” 

He went on to earn a Master of Public Policy from the University of Michigan.

“The Ford School at U-M is a pretty special place,” he says. “Several of my Miller Canfield public law colleagues studied there, and there is also a number of influential leaders and change-makers in Detroit who have come out of the Ford School.”

He then decided to pursue a law degree.

“I was drawn to the challenge of having to understand complex, often cloudy issues and then having to turn around and advise clients in the context of their own policy and business priorities,” he says.

He earned his J.D. from Wayne State University Law School where he served on the Law Review and was a member of the Jewish Law Students Association. He has nothing but praise for his student experience and the faculty.

“They were brilliant people and outstanding teachers who were devoted to educating great lawyers,” he says. “I also believe no other experience before or since has had more impact on my ability as a writer. Good writing was a constant theme at Wayne, and as a lawyer I’m constantly reminded that the ability to write well is the single most important skill in this profession.

“Of course, the other wonderful thing about Wayne is its relationship to the City of Detroit. Even 15 years ago, that connection was palpable—and of course it’s even more so now.”

He continues his involvement with his alma mater. A former member of the WSU Law Alumni Association Board, he recently was asked to serve as director of Wayne Law’s Program for Entrepreneurship and Business Law. He also has served on several board and advisory committees, focusing on the Jewish community and on small business and community development in Detroit.

Aronoff, who grew up in Oak Park and West Bloomfield, now lives in Huntington Woods with his wife Tracy, and sons Aiden, 9, and Cooper, 6.

An avid reader of nonfiction, including historical biographies and books about game theory and behavioral economics, he also is a huge fan of the Detroit Lions.

“My dad and I have had season tickets since I was 4 years old, and now we’ve added my sons to the tradition,” he says. “I also love the outdoors—when I was younger I led wilderness trips for teen-agers, and still like to get out in the woods and mountains when I can…though the opportunities aren’t as easy to come by these days.”