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Stephen Ross, Dan Gilbert Back $300M University Of Michigan Academic Center In Detroit

Dustin Blitchok

A 14-acre property in downtown Detroit is switching uniforms from jail blue to maize-and-blue.

The University of Michigan announced Wednesday plans for a $300-million research and education center as the anchor of the Detroit Center for Innovation project, located on a site once intended for a new Wayne County jail.

The academic building is being developed with financial backing from philanthropist, University of Michigan graduate, Detroit native and Related Cos. Chairman Stephen Ross.

Ross, 79, who moved to New York City a half-century ago, told Benzinga he’s chosen to invest in Detroit now because of how the city has developed.

“People want to be here,” he said. “The enthusiasm — you can feel it. You can see that all the office buildings have now been filled up. This is a place where people want to be. We’ve got to look to the young, because they lead the way.”

The University of Michigan was founded in Detroit in 1817 before moving to Ann Arbor two decades later. The business school at Michigan is named for Ross, who has donated $378 million to the university as of 2017 and is its single largest benefactor.

The college has about 300 other programs and initiatives in Detroit proper.

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Related Cos. Chairman Stephen Ross. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.

See Also: 'We're All In': JPMorgan Chase Increases Detroit Investment To 0M

From Cells To Classrooms

Michigan’s 190,000-square-foot academic center is being designed for 1,000 graduate and senior-level undergraduate students pursuing degrees in high-tech innovation industries with financial support from donors including Ross and Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert.

The initial phase of the project includes an incubator, startup services, housing, a hotel and conference center. Construction is expected to begin in 2021.

Work on the Wayne County “fail jail” site began in 2011 and came to a halt in 2013, and the property has sat dormant ever since. In a deal struck with Wayne County last year, Gilbert’s Rock Ventures took over the site and committed to build a new county criminal justice center on a parcel 2 miles to the north.

Gilbert viewed the county jail site as a “a gateway to a resurgent City of Detroit” as far back as 10 years ago, before the mortgage lender moved its headquarters from the suburbs to downtown, said Bedrock CEO Matt Cullen.

“It took Dan about 15 seconds to say we were all in as an organization” for the Detroit Center for Innovation project, Cullen said.

See Also: 'Validation Of The City And Region's Exciting Momentum': Dan Gilbert's Rocket Mortgage Brings Forbes' Under 30 Summit To Detroit

‘The Elevation Of Detroit’

“Instead of having 1,000 prisoners on this site, we’re going to have 1,000 graduate students,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday.

The deal for the development — including financing — is incomplete, the mayor said, adding that “we’ve got some work to do” in the next three to six months.

Duggan predicts the school’s biggest impact will be in the areas of artificial intelligence and mobility.

He referenced other recent educational and workforce investments in Detroit, such as Wayne State University’s rollout of free tuition for Detroit high school graduates and Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F)'s development of the Michigan Central Station into an Auto 2.0 hub.

“Detroit now has a major leg up” in the competition with Silicon Valley to lead the next generation of the auto industry, he said.

The mayor also hinted in his remarks at a major announcement ahead from General Motors Company (NYSE: GM) “about a vehicle of the future."

Entrepreneur Carla Walker-Miller, the CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services, said the development announced Wednesday is a “major, major” one for Detroit.

“With moves like this, we’re not going to be talking about the revitalization of Detroit, but the elevation of Detroit.”

Rendering courtesy of the Detroit Center for Innovation.

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