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Can Detroit build a 24-hour economy?

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Nightlife advocates look to provide more late-night opportunities for businesses and partygoers

Halloween party at Michigan Central Station
Michelle Gerard

Detroit has always been a party town. During Prohibition, it had numerous speakeasies and was a major hub for alcohol smuggling. It’s long had a thriving club, underground venue, and late-night music scene—Movement Music Festival is known as much for techno during the day as it is for the dozens of afterparties.

But last call takes place at 2 a.m. here, and revelry tends to end much earlier than in, say, New Orleans or many European cities. If the party does go on, it’s usually unregulated and underground.

Some groups and advocates, however, think Detroit could have a 24-hour nightlife scene, one that’s potentially contained within certain districts to reduce noise complaints.

Detroit could well look to Berlin as an example. For many years, Detroit has had an affinity with Germany’s capital, which is in many ways the techno capital of Europe. The Detroit-Berlin Connection has been seeking to strengthen bonds between the two cities and will hold its sixth annual conference, The Potential, in Detroit on May 21 and 22. All programming is free of charge.

One of the conference’s presenters, Mirik Milan of Berlin’s VibeLab, an agency that advocates for night economy initiatives around the world, will talk about how Detroit could create a more vibrant, 24-hour economy, as he did as night mayor of Amsterdam.

The city of Detroit recently hired its own night time economy ambassador, Adrian Tonon, to implement similar practices. “The role of Night Ambassador is to manage and improve relations between night businesses, residents, and government,” he said in an interview with Detroit Is It.

That doesn’t mean Tonon’s job is exclusively about partying, however—it covers all facets of running a 24-hour business, like safety, transportation, and relations with residents. For example, Detroit has been collaborating with Lyft to provide riders a $7 credit between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. to get visitors or late-night workers home.

Tonon also spoke about the potential of creating a distinct arts and nightlife district in the Northwest Goldberg neighborhood. “With existing music venues, creative spaces, and new businesses in the Northwest Goldberg neighborhood, as well as the Motown Museum and Henry Ford Health Systems expansions, the reality of a responsible 24-hour economy is achievable,” he said.

The Detroit Free Press wrote about an all-night, unpublicized “Full Moon” party at the Lincoln Street Art Park that attendees only become aware of a few hours before it begins. (The writer also caught a bit of flak for blowing up the party’s spot.) It takes place in an area zoned as heavy industrial, which means it isn’t subject to the same noise regulations as other areas.

That party, Tonon suggests, could hold the seeds for future all-night festivals that are safe, legal, and a blast.

Plenty of people are eager to enjoy Detroit after hours. It’ll be interesting to watch how the city facilitates that culture in the coming years.