In Flight

More than one of us has gazed upon the construction at the Book-Cadillac and thought, "Well, I guess they're ice skating in hell."

When Model D's first issue hit in June 2005, the Book-Caddy was one of those projects that observers said they would believe would actually happen when monkeys flew out of their derrieres.

Fly, little monkeys. Fly.

As we at Model D mark our 100th issue milestone, we browsed through our Development News archives. Development News editor Kelli B. Kavanaugh and other writers have chronicled the fruition of projects big and small that once seemed like pie in the sky. We thought it appropriate to look at a few of the big milestones the city has reached in the past two years, and to look ahead at what we'll be wishing, hoping, and pushing for over the next 100-plus issues.

• East Riverfront

Two years ago it sounded like a nice plan, but how amazing is it that the RiverWalk is almost finished? For this truly transformative project, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy deserves our applause. The $250 million RiverWalk has brought the city's shoreline more alive than it's been in decades. The area had become something of a post-industrial no-man's land — vacant warehouses, busted out windows, fallow brownfields teeming with who knows what.

With the walk more than 75 percent complete, Detroiters can finally claim the riverfront as a place to recreate and congregate. What's more, we have another shining example of what can be achieved when public, private and nonprofit entities pool together their ideas and resources.

Up next: More riverfront development. First up on the retail end is the Asian Village — a collection of restaurants, a coffee shop and a market in the Beaubien Place parking garage. The project took longer than expected, but from the look of things, it's totally worth the wait.  The interior space is drop-dead gorgeous (but would you expect less of designer Dominic Pangborn?). The sushi bar and coffee shop are up and running already, and the upscale restaurant and market should be open in the next couple of weeks.

Now imagine places like Asian Village once the residential plans for the area are complete and thousands of people live there. With @water Lofts, Detroit Elevator Building, the Watermark, the Globe Building, plus GM's recently announced 600-unit luxury condos, those petrified warehouses and weed-ridden lots will become new rooftops. These developments alone will bring in about a thousand units.

If Detroit pulls this riverfront transformation off, it'll be an extreme makeover to rival anything that annoying TV guy with a megaphone and too much styling gel can do.

• Book-Cadillac

They said it couldn't be done. Developers and plans came and went. The building was a goner. Start the demolition.

But city officials and Detroit Economic Growth Corp. crews fought tooth and nail for the Book-Cadillac renovation. The 66 condos and 455 hotel rooms represent a $180 million investment in downtown. Watch the story in progress on Model D TV.

And now that a guy has bought a million dollar condo in downtown Detroit, Bloomberg News, the Wall Street Journal and other media have taken notice. People want to live in an urban environment, and the Motor City finally is offering product to meet that demand.

Up next: Watch for more amenities to support downtown residents. In the past two years, we've had two new day spas — Innergy and Woodhouse — a CVS (No big deal? Maybe not, unless you live downtown and need toilet paper and dental floss, pronto.), a Ben & Jerry's, and scads more bars and restaurants. Residents want more — especially places that offer groceries and other necessities.

• Super Bowl

There ain't no party like a 313 party, and we proved it. This past February, Super Bowl host Miami had its share of vices, which made our virtues look that much better. Reports said press people preferred Motown. Hey, who needs thong bikinis, pina coladas and South Beach to watch a football game, really?

A true long-term effect is that Detroit now has a spruced up downtown. Visitors still remark at how much more clean, well lit, safe and generally better it looks. Clean Downtown crews, thank you Roger Penske, are still out there power washing and picking up litter.

Plus we've now got proof that city and suburban leaders can work together. And that people from all over metro Detroit want to be part of what goes on in the city — from the thousands of volunteers (many of whom still wear their red fleece SBXL jackets and work city events), to the thousands of partiers who even rode buses (gasp!) to be part of it.

Up next: Transit, transit, transit. Can we say it again? All together now: Transit. This area needs transit like a young globetrotting pop idol needs rehab. Regional cooperation worked for us once, and it'll take a city-suburb alliance to get the trains and/or buses rolling.

Also watch for efforts to expand the efforts of the Clean Downtown project. The chatter right now is about creating a business improvement district, or BID. The special taxing district pools resources from businesses to improve the physical appearance, boost safety and market and promote an area of a city. Read about Philadelphia's BID here.

Yes, we realize the two years our 100 issues cover are mere drops in the bucket of the lifespan of a major city founded three centuries ago. But in a short time, so much has happened. A lot more is in the pipeline. And we expect hell will freeze over a few more times in the process.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey is editor of Model D.

Riverfront and Book Cadillac Photos Copyright Dave Krieger

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