Ashton Lewandowski, Invest Detroit’s marketing intern, interviewed senior vice president Marcia Ventura to learn about continued investment in greater downtown and how it works alongside the strategic neighborhood initiative.
When I first started my marketing internship at Invest Detroit, I knew very little about what the company really did or the breadth of its activity in Detroit. I kept hearing the terms “Greater Downtown” and “Strategic Neighborhood Fund” but didn’t really understand what they meant or how they worked together. That changed when I sat down and learned about Invest Detroit and CEO Dave Blaszkiewicz’s commitment to “finish what we started”.
Greater Downtown consists of 7.2 square miles and includes Corktown, New Center, Tech Town, Midtown, Eastern Market, Lafayette Park, Rivertown, and Downtown. To learn more about Invest Detroit’s work in these neighborhoods, I spoke with senior vice president Marcia Ventura. With over 25 years in the financial services industry and 3.5 with Invest Detroit, she has deployed more than $30M in loans, grants, and New Market Tax Credits, and has been critical to many catalytic projects in the greater downtown area. We talked about the work done in the past and Invest Detroit’s future plans.
Invest Detroit and its predecessors started work over 20 years ago, helping to facilitate development of projects that would not have been feasible without Invest Detroit’s financing assistance. Primarily, its focus was on Greater Downtown, and the streets are now lined with projects that exist because of support from Invest Detroit. From the Auburn development on Cass to the Book Cadillac to the Q-Line, these initial projects are everywhere. And while much has been accomplished, the greater downtown area remains a focus because there are still areas to re-activate and develop. The western edge of the Central Business District remains largely undeveloped as does the western edge of Midtown. Re-activating these areas is necessary to further strengthen the downtown core, which strengthens the city overall.
As Downtown gradually became more active, Invest Detroit was able to bring its toolkit to other areas. “Post-bankruptcy, other capital and investors came in,” said Marcia, “This allowed us to move to the neighborhoods.” Starting in 2014, through a partnership with the City of Detroit, the Strategic Neighborhood Fund (SNF) was established to serve the Livernois-McNichols, Islandview/Greater Villages, and Vernor/Southwest neighborhoods. In 2018, the partnership continued to focus on removing blight, creating jobs, and increasing density by expanding the SNF to include seven more neighborhoods, bringing the total served to 10.
Though the neighborhoods and Greater Downtown have different populations, assets, and needs, a successful and inclusive Detroit depends on investment and growth in both areas. The neighborhoods have more families and diversity in age, race, ethnicity, and economic status, so the SNF works to improve the walkability and access to everyday amenities, jobs, and affordable housing within the community. However, residents still need a thriving downtown for jobs, entertainment, larger retail chains, etc. Balancing the new efforts to bolster neighborhoods with continued efforts to nurture Greater Downtown’s growth is critical and ensures that Invest Detroit keeps its commitment to finish what it started.