He is a mountain climber-turned financial planner. Risk is in his DNA. But Jay Hack is risk-averse when it comes to the place he calls home -- Detroit. Make that downtown Detroit. Woodward Avenue at Grand Circus Park to be exact.
Hack, 36, moved to the city from a condo in Royal Oak last November. Friends who were starting businesses invited him to explore the new community developing downtown. Other friends in the suburbs saw the move as risky. Not really, Hack says. If anything, he says he moved into the "high rent" district of the 34-story David Broderick Tower
He loved the idea of moving downtown, which for him is as much an adventure in urban living as experiencing a sense of family roots. "I used to come down to (visit) a friend’s parents’ beautiful apartment overlooking the water," he says over coffee at 1515 Broadway, around the corner from the Broderick Tower. In the 1980s, he says, "I thought it was so exciting to be in downtown Detroit. This was the big city to me.
"Almost the minute I moved downtown I started learning about all sorts of connections I had with Detroit that I would never have known about. My grandmother is 91. She came to my apartment and looked out over the Kales building. She said, 'Jay, in 1940 I met Frank Sinatra there.' There's a story I would never gotten." Another was the naming of the Isaac Agree Synagogue, on Griswold, after Hack’s great, great grandfather. "In a way, it was cool, moving downtown back to a little bit of roots." Hack is active in the growing Jewish community downtown, including CommunityNext
His two-floor, 1,300 square foot apartment, on the 17th and 18th floors of the Broderick Tower, has two bedrooms and two baths, is connected by a spiral stairway, and features a stunning view of Grand Circus Park. No other major city in the nation would offer such a view -- including home plate of Comerica Park -- for the price he pays, $1,900 per month, he says. In four years, he’ll have the option to buy the apartment, which right now, he says, is a very attractive option.
It was almost like moving to a new city, he says. "Now I can go somewhere, meet someone new and have a different relationship with a city that I knew about on an occasional basis, but now I get to know about it on a lifestyle basis. That’s exciting."
Just as he develops new friends, the relocation puts a strain on his old friends and the social patterns of the suburbs, where people wonder what it's like to live in a downtown high rise. He loves the experience, but is also not caught up in the "romance" of urban living.
"If you’re so enamored with the romance of it you’ll be disappointed. There’s not that much romance yet," he says. "If you’re so afraid you’re also not going to enjoy it. You’re never going to try to form relationships. But if you’re about the building process and seeing things building around you, seeing the David Whitney Building (across from the Broderick Tower) made into a hotel, seeing your friends starting a sports league next to the synagogue, then you’re going to be excited."
Hack’s business and social life remains rooted in the suburbs, but it's in transition. "I’ve tried to migrate it downtown," he says. "Of course, it’s going to be a slow process. I can’t move my business yet. Eventually, that would be neat to do. Socially, the risk is it's hard to maintain some of those friendships because in a way I’m looking at new friendships and new groups downtown."
Hack has had friends at his apartment, but this month he’s stepping it up to host two parties to benefit the Jewish Federation and the Summer in the City
program. "I’ll be able to have young professionals down for these fundraisers at my house and they’ll be able to see what's going on. That feels good."
Hack got a sober sense of downtown living on a quiet Sunday night when he took a walk looking for a place to eat -- he couldn’t find anything open. Downtown Detroit is deceiving, he says. Somewhat hidden within a one-mile radius of his apartment are more than 40 restaurants and clubs, according to D Hive
. It’s just that Woodward Avenue hasn’t quite come alive yet.
He’s found a culinary home at Angelina Italian Bistro
, in the Madison Building, as well as Atlas Global Bistro
and Green Dot Stables
. For entertainment, he likes the jazz at Cliff Bells
and blues at Nancy Whiskey. For coffee, he prefers Great Lakes Coffee
in Midtown. For exercise there’s his jogging route down to the East Riverfront, Dequindre Cut and beyond. Indoors, he works out at the Boll Family YMCA
, a block from his apartment.
For groceries, there's Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe
, the Honey Bee
in Mexicantown, and Saturdays at Eastern Market
. Practically everything he needs -- short of a dry cleaner’s, is almost immediately available within walking distance. In fact, Detroit’s downtown is small enough to be walkable from any direction.
Friends ask him, "Jay, if mountain climbing wasn’t dangerous would you do it?" The answer is probably no, he says. As for his habitat, he wants it safe. "I don’t need the tension. There’s enough tension to go around to make us productive."
Hack says Detroit offers him the right mix of comfort and challenge, with the appeal of being part of something important that’s beginning. "That’s what I love about downtown, the feeling of looking forward to something. I get excited when I get up in the morning."
Dennis Archambault is a Detroit freelancer and a long-time contributor to Model D.
Photos by Marvin Shaouni