Detroit Center for Innovation to be built in The District Detroit


The Detroit Center for Innovation, a future world-class research and education center anchored by the University of Michigan, will now be built in The District Detroit, a mixed-use sports and entertainment district situated between the city’s downtown and Midtown.

As part of the three-building DCI development, U-M will operate an approximately $300 million, 200,000-square-foot center focused on academic programs and research related to fields in which advanced technology is increasingly critical, according to the Dec. 13 announcement.

The DCI will enhance the university’s ability to drive innovation across a variety of those fields, President Mark Schlissel said.

The center is unique in that it will provide a space for the university to engage with industry, nonprofit and community partners to develop the most relevant academic programs and identify research opportunities of mutual interest and benefit, Schlissel said.

“We are enthusiastic about what the Detroit Center for Innovation will mean for the city, its residents and businesses and our current and future students,” Schlissel said. “The University of Michigan is already setting the groundwork for this new academic center, and we look forward to providing the kind of advanced educational programs that will meet the needs of an evolving workforce and move our economy forward.”

This artist's rendering shows the Detroit Center for Innovation.
This artist’s rendering shows the Detroit Center for Innovation, which will now be built in The District Detroit. (Image courtesy of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates)

The DCI will be built on what is currently a three-acre, development-ready surface parking area between Cass and Grand River avenues, and between West Columbia Street on the north and Elizabeth Street on the south.

In addition to the academic and research center, the development also will include a technology incubator at 2115 Cass Ave. and a new building that will create nearly 300 units of student and faculty housing along Cass Avenue. Partners in the center include the city of Detroit, Related Companies and Olympia Development of Michigan, an Ilitch company.

The DCI research and education center is seeded by a $100 million donation by real estate developer and alumnus Stephen M. Ross, chairman of Related, and a land contribution by Olympia Development. The project’s groundbreaking is expected to occur in the next 18-24 months.

“The Detroit Center for Innovation will increase access to opportunity for Detroiters, help nurture and retain talent and drive positive social and economic impacts throughout the city, region and state,” said Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, a private company that provides professional services to businesses founded or purchased by Detroit entrepreneurs Mike and Marian Ilitch, including Olympia Development.

“We look forward to working with Stephen Ross and Related Companies — leaders in creating visionary neighborhoods, in developing affordable housing, and in creating unique places across the country — along with the University of Michigan to support the growth of the DCI.”

U-M Regent and Ilitch family member Denise Ilitch announced previously that she was recusing herself from all U-M Board of Regents matters, and not participating in any discussions, about the DCI.

Center adds to university’s growing presence in Detroit

The center, which initially was to be built on the former Wayne County Jail site on Saint Antoine Street in Detroit, will be part of the university’s growing footprint in and around Detroit, where the university was founded in 1817.

The university’s presence in the city includes the U-M Detroit Center on Woodward Avenue, a “cradle to career” P-20 collaboration with the Detroit Public Schools Community District at Marygrove College in Northwest Detroit, and its nearby UM-Dearborn campus.

The Board of Regents voted Dec. 9 to approve renovating the 121,000-square-foot Horace H. Rackham Educational Memorial in Midtown. The $40 million project will establish the building as the new home to many existing U-M initiatives and programs in Detroit.

The university’s Detroit-based programs and functions include several initiatives designed to serve the city and its residents through education, research and service. They include a dedicated undergraduate admissions office, the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center and the Partnership on Economic Mobility, a joint effort between U-M’s Poverty Solutions initiative and the city to identify and implement concrete, evidence-based strategies that improve economic opportunity and reduce poverty in Detroit.

Hundreds of additional partnerships between the university and Detroiters exist throughout the city, including K-12 programs, community-academic research projects, business engagement initiatives, and collaborations with city government and neighborhood organizations.

The work is guided by the university’s three principles for community and civic engagement:

  • Recognition for the expertise and knowledge within the community.
  • Respect for individuals, communities and their resources.
  • Equitable partnership focused on reciprocal relationships, transparency and accountability.

Board of Regents Chair Jordan Acker, in noting the board’s support for the project, hailed the announcement as a win for both the university and the city.

“Our students will have the opportunity to gain the unique skills, knowledge and experience needed to lead the tech-driven economy of the future,” Acker said. “And Detroit, as well as the wider region, will soon be able to tap into a new talent pipeline tailored to meet the needs of the local economy.”

The DCI is an exciting new step in the university’s rich history of partnership and progress in Detroit, a city known for its innovative leaders, Regent Mark Bernstein said.

“From Henry Ford and Berry Gordy to Mike Ilitch and Stephen Ross, our city and our region have a long, proud history of entrepreneurship,” Bernstein said. “The Detroit Center for Innovation will strengthen this entrepreneurial ecosystem so future generations have the skills and knowledge to better our city, our region, and the world.”

DCI to offer innovative academic experiences, partnerships

While the university will provide instruction at the DCI’s academic center, degrees and certificates will be awarded through the Ann Arbor campus. The academic center is designed to serve U-M students in the last year of their undergraduate programs, as well as students seeking graduate degrees or certificates that indicate completion of specified programs to learn the technology and other skills needed to advance their careers.

Artist's rendering of a common area outside the Detroit Center for Innovation.
The Detroit Center for Innovation will build on Detroit’s growing presence as a center for innovation, which includes Ford Motor Co.’s new Corktown mobility innovation campus, TechTown Detroit and Wayne State University. (Image courtesy of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates)

The Detroit Center for Innovation Curriculum Development Committee, a group of 21 faculty members and administrators appointed by Schlissel in 2020, has worked to formulate curricula that are interdisciplinary, flexible and focused on the emerging needs of the Detroit regional economy.

When opened, the DCI will provide Michigan businesses and communities with a pipeline of talent, and will offer opportunities for current workers to further their skills in a world of fast-paced technological change. It also will build on Detroit’s growing presence as a center for innovation, which includes Ford Motor Co.’s new Corktown mobility innovation campus, TechTown Detroit and Wayne State University.

The DCI also will provide additional opportunities for the university to partner with the city and its residents through initiatives like project-based learning that addresses the real needs of the community and youth-focused enrichment and tutoring programs to inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields. U-M officials also hope to explore future programmatic partnerships with Wayne State.

The academic center will be designed with faculty input and will give faculty and students the opportunity to engage in interesting, innovative research and education across fields where advanced technology is important.

Business incubators, research and development and collaboration space for large established companies, co-working space, and startup support services also will be available, bringing top minds from the private sector together with the public and academic sectors.

The collaborative approach will encourage business growth in Detroit as students graduate and start their own businesses in the area, with continued support from the DCI.

“Partnership is essential to so much of what we do at the University of Michigan, and in that regard, this project is an important continuation of the work we’re already doing in cooperation with the city, its residents and its business community,” Regent Sarah Hubbard said.

“Adapting to the economic needs of tomorrow will be essential to the success of this city and our state. The University of Michigan is proud to leverage its academic and research strengths to help meet these needs and move our region forward.”

As part of the Dec. 13 announcement, Olympia Development and Related also said they are exploring additional development opportunities in The District Detroit that will amplify the positive impact of the DCI. 

These development opportunities will center around a purpose-driven enterprise committed to working closely with local Detroit minority- and women-owned businesses in its development efforts.

Related and Olympia will focus on job creation and accelerating community-minded priority developments, including affordable housing, preservation and adaptive reuse of existing historic buildings, market-rate housing, sustainable green spaces and commercial office, retail and restaurants.

Jumpstarting those efforts, California-based software company ServiceNow announced that Detroit will be a strategic growth destination as part of its four-year growth plan.

ServiceNow’s plans include:

  • Opening a new office for its engineering, sales and finance groups that will anchor a building adjacent to the DCI.
  • Establishing a partnership with U-M and Wayne State to support prospective talent development.
  • Endowing scholarships for engineering and computer science students of color at each university, and committing funding and talent to support coding curricula for local middle and high school students.

“As a native Detroiter, I believe it is critical for the DCI to have a catalytic economic and social impact on the people of Detroit,” Ross said. “That impact will be best achieved in The District Detroit where it will connect with existing density and ignite additional development, driving job creation, attracting entrepreneurs and inspiring the next generation of trailblazing talent — beginning with ServiceNow.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer noted the DCI and surrounding development would help Michigan address some of its most pressing challenges and opportunities.

“Michigan is the home of opportunity, and the DCI will provide more access to economic growth for Detroiters and residents across our state,” Whitmer said. “This unique community-driven development will catalyze entrepreneurship, attract new businesses to Michigan and grow our state’s world-class workforce.”


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