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Black celebrity investment in Detroit gains steam

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In the last year, some big names like Lenny Kravitz, Angela Yee, and Big Sean have put money into Detroit real estate and businesses

DJ Envy, Chance The Rapper, and Angela Yee attend the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards. The past few years, Yee has been active in Detroit real estate.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

In her role as senior director of publicity for BET, Zabrina Horton was responsible for wrangling some of biggest stars in black entertainment on red carpets across the country. After being laid off from the company four years ago, Horton began to explore other career options, including her passion for real estate investment.

“Nipsey Hussle was a great inspiration,” Horton says of the recently deceased rap icon and Los Angeles community advocate. “His passion for black community investment inspired a lot of people.”

A native of Pasadena, Horton knew no one in Detroit until a mutual friend, Deba Harper, moved to the city and took a job with the Detroit Land Bank. Together they founded Detroit Dream Investment Solutions, a Los Angeles- and Detroit-based real estate management and investment company.

“Detroit has such an interesting history,” Horton says. “The entertainment legacy is really appealing to me. … I like the idea of being a part the city’s future and its ambitious story.”

Detroit’s real estate boom is no secret. Prices for property in and around downtown and Midtown have skyrocketed. Development is even beginning to trickle out into neighborhoods like Jefferson Chalmers, Live6, and the North End. Yet, there still remains a significant number of vacant properties in the city prime for rehab and resell.

Radio personality, podcaster, and entrepreneur Angela Yee is part of the threesome known as The Breakfast Club. Syndicated through iHeart Radio, the Breakfast Club has a listenership of more than 3 million per month on 80 different stations.

Yee began to invest in Detroit several years ago after work trips started bringing her to the city. “I’ve been coming to Detroit for over 16 years now, from when I used to work with Eminem’s clothing line, Shady LTD,” Yee says.

The radio vet, with 1.3 million Instagram followers, owns two houses in Boston Edison and is partnering on a third. Her passion is about more than making money—Yee also plans to invest in businesses, and is working on a documentary about the city.

When it comes to talking to her celebrity pals about Detroit, she says, “Sometimes I feel like I talk about it too much! But (fellow Breakfast Club member) DJ Envy got his homes there also after I encouraged him.”

Yee states that she has more friends in the music industry who have recently purchased homes in Detroit, and one who is considering the city to open a business.

Yee is one of the most vocal celebrities investing in Detroit, but there are many others making moves in the city. Former NBA legend and Michigan native Magic Johnson plans to develop 16 acres on the former Michigan State Fairgrounds site for a mixed-use development. The sale represents one-tenth of the size of the site, the remainder of which was sold to the city of Detroit which plans to develop it.

Rocker Lenny Kravitz and his New York City–based design firm, Kravitz Design, is handling all of the interior design for the new Temple Hotel located a block from Masonic Temple. The project is expected to have 100 hotel rooms and 70 apartment units, 20 percent of which will be “affordable” for those who make 80 percent or less of the area median income.

”My connection with the city has been through the decades of music created there,” Kravitz told Crain’s Detroit Business. “In recent years, I have also become interested in Detroit as being a city being reborn. It’s very satisfying as a result for myself and the Kravitz Design team to offer our energy and ideas to the success of the Temple Hotel, as well as Detroit.”

Not to be left out of the excitement, Black celebrities who are native to Detroit are making significant investments as well. In 2018, rapper Big Sean and Emagine Entertainment announced that they are partnering to bring a new movie theater to the city. The joint venture will bring 10-12 screens inside the city limits and also feature a performance venue space.

Actor Hill Harper purchased the historic Fisher Mansion in Boston Edison in 2017. Unlike other celeb investors, Harper actually lives in the city. The 16,000-square-foot home is the actor’s home base and where he is raising his young son. Harper also owns the downtown Detroit Roasting Plant coffee shop.

While celebrity investment is exciting, Yee says that her hope is for native Detroiters to take advantage of the boom.

“I want to encourage the people from Detroit to own their homes before it becomes inaccessible, which is what happened in New York,” Yee says. “There was a time when houses were inexpensive in Brooklyn, but that time is long gone. I wished I had invested back then, and I don’t want the opportunities available in Detroit to pass me by.”