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Report: Can reusing Detroit’s older buildings help citywide revitalization?

Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

Detroit still has many older vacant buildings in commercial corridors throughout the city. As the city takes bigger steps to revitalize these corridors, how can smaller businesses and developers utilize these storefronts? What barriers do Detroit developers specifically face when working with them?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has just released a report with the Urban Land Institute looking at these barriers in Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Detroit. The report points out key challenges in each city, with a specific focus on zoning, financing, parking, and code.

In terms of Detroit, the report specifically notes that financing is a huge challenge for small and mid-market developers, and that,

Many rely heavily on subsidies and tax abatements, creating a multi-layered financing process which can be difficult to navigate or confusing to lenders. There is also a lack of reliable sources of financing needed to "pencil out" many deals, such as gap financing, tax credits for rehabilitation, and traditional financing for home or small business owners. Insurance is nearly impossible to come by in less established neighborhood markets.

Other large barriers specific to Detroit include a long, complicated permitting process in the city. In terms of rehabbing these programs, the report points to a lack of skilled tradespeople in the city to successfully restore the properties.

How can Detroit overcome these barriers? The Partnership for Building Reuse suggests:

  • Streamlining the permitting process
  • Updating building and zoning regulations
  • Creating pilot programs to drive revitalization in targeted areas
  • Developing new mapping tools to help target selected areas.

The National Trust points out successful Detroit programs like Motor City Match, which pairs small business owners with building owners as a way to open brick and mortar locations in neighborhoods throughout the city.

The full report can be read here.