You're welcome: Four new Detroiters talk about moving to gay-friendly Midtown

Less than a year ago, they lived in smaller communities like Ann Arbor and Birmingham. Now, they enjoy their downtown views from Willys Overland Lofts in Midtown Detroit. They open their homes to prospective loft buyers, they invite neighbors to spontaneous happy hours. When our local merchants were looking for a meeting spot, they said, "Do it at our place!"

They are Jeff Antaya, Elliott Broom, Patricia Wren and Melissa Smiley -- four new city residents who could choose to live anywhere, really. They are executives, professors, urban planners -- and now, thanks to an introduction from Austin Black II of City Living Detroit, good friends. Who also happen to be gay.

On the heels of our "Gay Detroit" Speaker Series, we thought we'd check-in to see how city life has been treating them. Here is what they had to say.

Why did you move to Detroit?

Jeff: I love Detroit and I want to make a difference. Detroit needs people to shop and live in the city, and I wanted to be counted among those who helped make it happen instead of leaving it to others. As a board member at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and a graduate of Leadership Detroit, I've had great experiences in Detroit. By living here I am able to draw more people to see all the city has to offer.

Elliott: I moved into the city of Detroit because I love city living. Despite its much publicized troubles, Detroit offers the kind of energy, sense of history and neighborhood experience only city living can offer.

Patricia: A large factor in my decision was shortening my commute from Ann Arbor to Rochester where I work at Oakland University. But beyond that, I've been a city girl much of my life, having attended college in Chicago. I really wanted to get back to that.

Melissa: I really wanted to get back to city living. There is a vibe here. There's always something happening.

What attracted you to Willys Overland Lofts in Midtown?

Jeff: I was attracted to Midtown because it was a walkable neighborhood. My dog Gabbi and I routinely take 2-3 mile walks and there is so much to see and do. I picked Willys because it worked best for me. I wanted covered parking and a private outdoor space. The opportunity to customize my home was a huge added bonus.

: After looking at many other condominiums I choose Willys because it offered the kind of unit customization unavailable anywhere else and in a setting that is truly unique. I chose Midtown because it is, simply, a cool neighborhood. It offers culture and a sense of community. It is also continuing to build momentum and grow!

Patricia: The architecture and character of the building attracted me to Willys. The original 1917 floors have dings and dents and pock marks. There are 14-foot high windows with views of the skyline. We have large concrete "martini" support columns and I just want to hug them! I think Willys exemplifies what "loft living" can be.

: I prefer to walk and ride my bike for transportation. The dense collection of shops and restaurants and activities in Midtown afforded me many opportunities to do just that.

Do you find Detroit to be gay-friendly?

Jeff: I think it is gay friendly; perhaps gay neutral is a better term. Everyone is open and accepting of each other. It is easy to meet people -- there are several connectors and catalysts for this. Places like Canine To Five and the North Cass Community Garden and people like Joe Posch and Austin Black all help everyone to integrate.

Elliott: Midtown is definitely gay-friendly! My impression is that Detroit is certainly more open-minded towards the gay lifestyle than it once was. It's nice to know that it has grown less provincial in this respect.

Patricia: First, let me say that I find Detroit as a whole to be incredibly friendly. People say hi to you here. People make eye contact and are actively engaged in each other's lives.  We walk our dogs everywhere and people stop to talk to us. It's easy to be -- and be gay -- here.

Melissa: Detroit is friendly -- period! Gay friendly. Family friendly. Everywhere we go, there is a friendly mix of people who share a love for what's happening in the city. Motor City Pride was hugely successful in Hart Plaza. The crowd was a vibrant mix of ages, races and sexual orientations.

What are your favorite spots?

Jeff: My favorite place is the outdoor sculpture garden at the College for Creative Studies on John R which has all the DIA Sculpture. I love that space, it is sacred for me.

Elliott: Motor City Brewing Works, Bronx Bar, Wasabi, Good Girls Go to Paris, Union Street, Majestic Café, Avalon International Breads, Raw Café, Goodwells, Slow's, Spiral Collective, Bureau of Urban Living, City Bird, DIA (of course), DSO, MOT, Fox Theatre, Comerica Park, Eastern Market, Dequindre Cut, Boll Family YMCA, and so many more.

Patricia: Comerica Park in a pennant race, Friday night concerts at the DIA, Eastern Market before most people are awake, and the marvelous shops on West Willis and Canfield, especially during their Third Thursday events.  

Melissa: Wine tastings at Angelina's Italian Bistro, Motor City Brewing Works deck on a sunny spring day, either side of the menu at El Barzon, and walking the dogs along the Detroit Riverwalk and Dequindre Cut.

What's one thing you wish more people knew about Detroit?

Jeff: How vibrant Detroit really is. If people knew of all the people moving here from all over the country who have no roots in Southeast Michigan, they would be amazed.

Elliott: I want people to know that it is actually a nice place to live! I pray for the day people stop heading for the suburbs and choose the city as the place to live. I think we'd be the last of the major cities where this has been a trend for the last several years.

Patricia: People are choosing to live in Detroit. It's a choice. It's not an accident. And, for us, it's been the single best choice we've made!

Melissa: There are a lot of people here and lots to do. Life here is a lot of fun. 

Claire Nelson is Model D's Speaker Series coordinator and owner of Midtown's Bureau of Urban Living.
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Claire Nelson is the founder of Urban Consulate, a network of parlors for urban exchange. Most days you can find her in Detroit or New Orleans.