Detroit is a shell of its former glorious self. Yet, Dan Gilbert sees it as a shell that can be easily filled.
On Thursday, Gilbert, who has been buying up downtown Detroit real estate one building after another, will tell Metro Detroit that the streets of its biggest city can be as cosmopolitan as any in the world.
Read more: Gilbert's downtown real estate empire grows
Fred Kent, of the Project for Public Places, has worked with Gilbert for the past year developing the strategy.
"(Gilbert) has a vision of a city that is more like Paris than anywhere, because historically (Detroit) was defined by Paris. Now, if you can reach to Paris, you're reaching to the best of the best," Kent said.
Kent specializes in something called "placemaking." It's a quicker, leaner and faster way of doing urban business. The development strategy has been executed in cities such as Chicago. It resembles what Detroit has in Campus Martius. It's more flexible than business of old because it allows for businesses to move in. If they succeed, they can expand. If they don't, another business can move in.
"Placemaking is about, well, say if there are 10 places here in Campus Martius and each place has 10 things to do, you have 100 things to do," Kent said.
Here is what Gilbert himself said in a party invitation to 400 business leaders:
"Our vision is for treasured public spaces like Campus Martius, Cadillac Square, Grand Circus Park and Capitol Park to be transformed into pedestrian-friendly beacons of activity igniting Detroit with a level of energy and excitement not experienced, if ever. The goal here is to make downtown Detroit nothing less than an attraction and destination for both residents and visitors alike."
Gilbert has done a good job of keeping a lid on what's to come on Thursday. However, here's a hint: the parking lot across from the Hard Rock Cafe will not be a parking lot much longer. Buildings will be erected in its place. The traffic around the circle will be reduced and slowed down to make it more pedestrian-friendly.
Gilbert, the founder of Detroit's own Quicken Loans, already has bought 17 vacant downtown Detroit buildings and is in the process of buying the Greektown Casino.