Dave Blaszkiewicz became head of the Downtown Detroit Partnership in February with a clear directive: Re-evaluate everything.
All the DDP’s work was on the table, Blaszkiewicz said. This included such programs as 211 On The Go, which helps the homeless become equipped to seek employment and permanent housing; Clean Downtown, the DDP’s signature downtown street-cleaning program; and the annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Campus Martius Park.
While the DDP is keeping all those programs, it’s also venturing into new territory under Blaszkiewicz’s leadership.
Blaszkiewicz’s DDP is a more hands-on economic and community development agency, filling the same role that Sue Mosey’s Midtown Detroit Inc. plays.
Since Blaszkiewicz came on board, the DDP has announced Live Downtown, a residential incentive program funded by private and nonprofit employers in downtown Detroit; has participated in the development of a transit-oriented development plan to align with the proposed M1 Rail project; and is working to assist redevelopment of downtown’s Capitol Park.
“We want to drive change,” said Cynthia Pasky, founder and CEO of Detroit-based Strategic Staffing Solutions and chairman of the DDP’s board of directors.
“We’re about safety, lighting, economic development,” Clean Downtown and then “the social elements,” she said. At Campus Martius, Pasky said, the DDP does the tree lighting, “making sure we have an ice-skating rink, having concerts in the summer.
“But for the city to grow and thrive, we need to have a strong safety element, the city has to be well-lit, it has to be clean, it has to have a strong economic development arm, and then you can have the programming.”
Choosing Blaszkiewicz to fill the role advanced those priorities, she said.
“He’s the perfect person,” Pasky said. “He has a lot of capacity, he’s very smart, he knows how to work with other agencies, engage corporations … he is hands-on but he’s hands-on in a way that he has other people” involved in the work.
Blaszkiewicz is also president of Invest Detroit, a job he’s had since 2001. Invest Detroit is a loan fund that finances business, residential and other economic development in the city. He’s still president of that organization but doesn’t participate in decisions that could pose a conflict of interest. Loans, for example, are granted with approval of a board, not on one person’s say-so, he said.
Pasky said there was some talk on the DDP board of merging the organizations, but the board agreed that one person could lead both.
It was important to determine how the DDP could boost economic development without duplicating the work of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., the city’s quasi-governmental economic-development arm, Blaszkiewicz said.
Part of Blaszkiewicz’s work has concerned developing a new framework for the DDP’s work. The organization has two priorities: physical enhancement through making downtown safe, clean and inviting; and economic development targeted and coordinated with other agencies — but they’re linked, Blaszkiewicz said.
Within the framework, it’s easy to see how the organization’s two focuses support each other: Code enforcement and the Clean Downtown program make downtown more attractive to applicants to the Live Downtown program; lighting and landscaping connect to the transit-oriented development plan, he said.
But safety is necessary for a successful downtown, Blaszkiewicz said. Without a safe downtown, economic development, social programs and recreational programming don’t matter.
The DDP is working with the DEGC, the Detroit Downtown Development Authority and the city’s Public Lighting Department to install 1,077 new LED street lights in the downtown area, Blaszkiewicz said.
“This will lighten the load on the grid — they use 40 percent less energy — and will reduce replacement costs and labor” because LED street lights last 10 years, rather than the three or four that conventional street lights can last.
The DDP is also working to boost stakeholder engagement, with regular meetings and participation in broader DDP decisions, and has hired retail recruiter Heather Kazmierczak to attract businesses to the downtown.
The Capitol Park project recently received proposals from developers to renovate three buildings on the park in Detroit’s west downtown. The park, once a transfer point for many city bus routes, was rehabbed in 2009 after the lines were routed through the nearby Rosa Parks Transit Center.
The project is justified, Blaszkiewicz said, in part by the Live Downtown incentives, set to run for five years. He said developers should see the incentive program as a sign that there’s a market for housing downtown.
“Dave is a very effective leader who is working to develop a comprehensive, integrated approach to revitalizing the downtown district in concert with the DEGC,” Mosey said.
“District planning, prioritization of downtown services and infrastructure needs, new security initiatives and other place-making programs such as the Live Downtown program are already under way and gaining traction under the new DDP.”