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From the vault: 'Go 4 It' special from 2003 detailing plans for Downtown Detroit

The Motor City has seen some significant changes over the last two decades.

This Local 4 special titled "Go for It Detroit" from 2003 celebrated the Detroit Regional Chamber’s one-hundredth birthday and their plans going forward to improve Downtown Detroit.

The initiatives covered three major areas of improvement: mass transit, infrastructure, and healthcare.

Watch the 45-minute special above.

Mass transit plans for SE Michigan

Mass transit was an area that was lacking in Detroit. The Detroit Regional Chamber wanted to coordinate city and suburban services. They made an agreement between the county leaders, mayor, and governor to create a Regional Transportation Authority – DARTA, or Detroit Area Regional Transit Authority.

There were two iterations of DARTA, but both ultimately failed. One was vetoed by former Michigan Gov. John Engler. This was the same day that the Senate voted against a charter schools proposal. Engler stated “if the region couldn’t get its act together on education, it didn’t make sense to help transit.” The other was plagued by governance issues and was ultimately killed by legislature.

Fast forward to 2017, many people still believe that mass transit is a problem in Detroit. Lower-wage workers in Detroit still continue to have a hard time finding transportation to their jobs, which are often in the suburbs. New initiatives are still being taken to improve mass transit today, such as the introduction of a new streetcar, the QLINE. The QLINE runs over three miles, starting at Congress Street and traveling to West Grand Boulevard and back.

Infrastructure improvements for Downtown

A large focus in the improvement of Downtown Detroit was redeveloping infrastructure.

The Compuware Headquarters plan to move downtown kicked off the plan to bring more businesses and buildings downtown. The Compuware Headquarters was the first new major office building in over a decade and brought 4,100 employees downtown. A new location of the Hard Rock café was also planned to open. The hope was for more retailers and entertainers to follow their lead and open up downtown.

The Compuware Headquarters would overlook the new Campus Martius Park, which was also only in the plans during this time. It would be a $15-million investment featuring an elaborate fountain, two performance stages, and an ice rink. The new park was dedicated in 2004, including all of these features. During the winter months, Campus Martius hosts the annual Motown Winter blast that draws over 450,000 people every year downtown.  Campus Martius opens a beach area where families can relax during the warmer summer months.

Another initiative to improve the infrastructure in Detroit that was only on the radar at the time was The RiverWalk Project.

The project cost $500-million to jump start, with plans to open up three-mile stretch along the Detroit River to the public from Cobo Hall to Belle Isle. The project would also include a state park, Tricentennial Park. This park was not only the first of its kind in Detroit, but all of the United States. At this time, no urban area had a state park. The park went on to dedicate in May of 2008.

The goal of these projects was not only to bring in visitors to this area, but new residents. In order to do this, improving residential areas had to be a big focus for the Detroit Regional Chamber as well. Many developments were in the works. Lofts One planned to open 61 new units to potentially young new urban professionals. Merchant’s Row planned to transform eight abandoned buildings on Woodward into apartments and shops. The Kales building overlooking Grand Circus Park would hold over one-hundred residential units by 2004.

Along with the new residential buildings, the streets would also get a makeover. $20-million were pumped into the city’s streets, including new lighting and landscaping on Broadway, and restoration of Washington Boulevard. After closing in 1984,

Healthcare overhauls

“Eventually we must say the bleeding must stop,” said Dr. Arthur Porter, President and CEO of Detroit Medical Center.

In 2003, Detroit hospitals were on a downward spiral. Over a period of five years, Detroit Medical Center lost $350 million. In one year, Henry Ford Hospital lost $10 million. St. John Health System was expected to lose $40 million dollars in 2004. The three major health systems combined surrendered over $500 million of uncompensated care to uninsured patients.

“Ultimately our ability to serve the community of Detroit is increasingly challenged,” said Elliot Joseph, President and CEO of St. John’s Health.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan had to accept anyone no matter their age or medical condition. Because of the overwhelming amount of patients being treated without insurance, the cost of health insurance premiums skyrocketed to compensate. Most small business could not afford them, forcing many people to go uninsured. The Detroit Regional Chamber was looking for more than just a short-term solution to this problem. One of these solutions were to create a public health authority to manage federal spending while simultaneously making sure the poor and uninsured get treatment.

Taking a look into 2017, a health care initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber called HealthForward aims to improve health and healthcare in Detroit. Healthcare premiums are still viewed as very costly, however, continually making it difficult for small businesses to afford healthcare for their employees. Healthcare is still considered a problem in Detroit by many people. 

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