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Inside Detroit puts out a welcome mat in the city







Inside Detroit co-founder Jeanette Pierce knows she doesn't have to stay in Detroit, but there's nowhere she'd rather be. Besides, if she left the city now, she says, it would be like "selling Microsoft stock in 1987 and trying to get it back in '97."

On a day last week so rainy it's of almost Biblical proportions, Pierce is a kinetic ball of energy multi-tasking inside the offices of Inside Detroit, the nonprofit she and Maureen kearns founded together two years ago. Pierce laughs as she calls it the "MacGyver office." Located at 1253 Woodward, it has been put together with bits of this, little pieces of that, and recycled parts of other things.

Inside Detroit
started as a tour provider, offering visitors an insider's view of the city. The organization has been going through quite a growth spurt lately, and Pierce wants to ensure people know the whole story. "I kind of assumed people knew us and kind of knew what we did," she says, "but because we do so many different things, we realize they really don't."

Inside Detroit still offers tours of bars, churches, architecture and historic sites. There are walking tours, bus tours and Segway tours. You could even have a scavenger hunt tour if that's your thing. Or a how about a customized tour that incorporates a little bit of everything?

But the organization has expanded its staff and scope.

Within the last three months, Inside Detroit was granted nonprofit status and hired eight tour guides, a volunteer coordinator and social marketing coordinator. Pierce and Kearns have dubbed their office space the "Welcome Center," due to the fact the city of Detroit, unlike most cities half its size, does not have a visitor center. The office has an abundance of information, referrals, brochures, recommendations and directions.

In addition, Inside Detroit also has The Local 1253, a retail store located at the front of the Welcome Center. It features Detroit-centric fashions, furnishings and baubles created by more than 25 Detroit artists and creative types. The office space itself is rented out to local community groups and organizations for events or meetings.  

Sandy Hopkins is one of the new tour guides and Midtown resident. She will also be in charge of acquiring music from local bands and musicians to promote and sell in the store. On May 26, Inside Detroit will host a kick-off party to promote the business as a go-to place for Detroit music. "Detroit has this vast amount of artists and musicians that keep this city thriving," says Hopkins, herself a member of local band Velveteen Rabbit.

Additionally, for the past year or so, Inside Detroit has also been working to help inform and engage those in human resources, university recruitment and small business owners so that they can fan out and "sell" the city to prospective workers and residents.

"We started with the passion and the need," says Pierce, "Now we're adding the business end to it."

Live, work and play

Pierce isn't allowed to drink coffee before she talks about Detroit. "I get too tweaked up and scare people," she says, joking. So she is caffeine-free when she speaks to the 40 or so Detroit professionals gathered for a luncheon at the Welcome Center followed by a quick bus tour of downtown.

"You get the out-of-staters who have a negative perception (of Detroit)," says Kevin Law, manager of talent acquisition for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, who attended the luncheon. "It's getting them over that hump and out of that perception."

That's exactly where Inside Detroit comes in.

"We build people's perspectives on where we are today and where we're going in the future," says Pierce. "It's an economic development thing, really."

It also helps that Pierce and Kearns, and all of the tour guides, live in Detroit. Pierce lives a couple minutes away, walks nearly everywhere and hasn't driven her car for a month. In other words, the people showing you the city really, really, really love this city. "They're telling their stories," Pierce says of the tour guides, "so it's not boring."

"The more you know about other cities -- the more you see other cities, the more you love Detroit," says Pierce. Most other cities start to look the same and have the same sort of, as she puts it, "tourist bullshit." "In Detroit, there is no tourist bullshit."

That type of straightforward attitude found a kindred soul in Kearns, whom Pierce met when they both were hanging out at the Beaubien Street Saloon four years ago. They both wanted a way to get a good message out about the city, one not accompanied by abandoned houses, crime or financial ruin. They wanted to offer visitors, both residents and non-residents alike, the same type of experience you'd get if you had a close friend take you around a strange city. So Pierce and Kearns became those friends.

"We're everybody's friends," chirps Pierce. "What we do breaks down the barriers between suburbs and the city."

A new Detroit

One day more than 200 years ago, Detroit burst into flames. It burned down to the ground, and ts denizens had to pick through the ash and rubble to find something worth saving.

The tour bus carrying Pierce and the 40 area business professionals slows near the Spirit of Detroit statue, which is flanked on one side by the city seal.

This particular tour has been a quick but information-packed ride, full of fun trivia and fascinating facts. But it is at the Spirit of Detroit that the tour changes.

Pierce explains the city's motto was created after the great fire of 1805, when the city was in the midst of rebuilding.  The motto is "Speramus Meliora Resurget Cineribus," Latin for "We hope for better things. It will arise from the ashes."

And just like that, it all becomes poignant. Pierce isn't a tour guide anymore; she is the voice of her beloved city -- a voice advocating, pleading for survival. "We might stumble and fall," she says, "but we get up bigger and better. And that's what we're in the midst of doing today."

Inside Detroit is located at 1253 Woodward Ave. For more information on tours, go to www.insidedetroit.org or call (313) 268-6562. Inside Detroit is currently looking for volunteers. If interested, e-mail volunteer@insidedetroit.org. Local musicians interested in promoting their music at Inside Detroit should email Sandy Hopkins at sandy@insidedetroit.org.


Megan Pennefather is a freelance writer. Send feedback here.

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