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Stephen Ross, Dan Gilbert to build $300M ‘innovation center’ in Detroit

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The real estate moguls will partner with the University of Michigan to build the campus at the former “fail jail” site

A large glass building shaped like a trapezoid but with a rounded edge. There’s a large boulevard that heads into a downtown with multiple skyscrapers.
Rendering of the Detroit Center for Innovation on Gratiot Avenue.
Kohn Pedersen Fox

Back in May this year, there was speculation that real estate moguls Dan Gilbert and Stephen M. Ross were looking to build a research and development facility in Detroit with a connection to the University of Michigan. At last, early details of those plans have been revealed.

Gilbert and Ross announced today that they’ll be partnering with the University of Michigan to build a campus at the eastern edge of downtown focusing on high-tech research. The anchor building will be the Detroit Center for Innovation—a $300-million, 190,000-square-foot research and education center at the site of the unfinished Wayne County Jail on Gratiot Avenue.

It’s being designed by the New York City–based architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox. Construction is slated to begin in 2021.

DCI is part of a multi-building project that will include a business incubator, “collaboration space” for established companies, residential units, a hotel, and a conference center and event space at the former Detroit Police Department headquarters owned by Bedrock Detroit.

A rendering of a plaza underneath a glass building. There’s glass atriums on either side as people walk through the area. Kohn Pedersen Fox

Ross told Crain’s Detroit Business that the total cost of the campus could exceed $750 million.

“I spent my childhood and many of my young adult years living and working in Detroit and have long wanted to find a way to have a real impact on my hometown,” Ross, founder and Chairman of Related Companies, said in a release. “The idea of the new center reflects the shared commitment of Dan, myself, the city, the county, the state and the University of Michigan to create a transformative center for innovation that will help fuel the city’s next chapter of growth.”

Among the many projects in his portfolio, Ross lead the construction of the $25-billion, 28-acre Hudson Yards mega-project that opened this year in Manhattan. This is his first Detroit-based development.

DCI will primarily be an academic center for graduate students or undergrads in their last year of school. U-M envisions an interdisciplinary group of faculty in tech-related fields, mingling with entrepreneurs and other businesses, to create a “collaborative approach” to learning.

The development would be a significant expansion of U-M’s footprint in Detroit. Currently, the Ann Arbor–based university operates its Detroit Center at Woodward and MLK, the Horace H. Rackham Education Memorial Building on Farnsworth, and a new partnership with the Detroit Public Schools Community District at the Marygrove College campus.

Ross told Crain’s he hopes the center will encourage other businesses to relocate to Detroit to “take advantage of the talent coming there.”

After this news, combined with Wayne State University’s expanding innovation district near New Center and Ford’s mobility campus in Corktown, Detroit may indeed become a destination for tech talent.