Detroit Today: Developers defend District Detroit project expansion

The District Detroit project promised to bring Little Caesars Arena and new developments around it. However, those additional developments are yet to show up.

Rendering of a proposed building in District Detroit.

Once a project that was supposed to bring up Little Caesars Arena and other developments in the surrounding area, it is now mostly just the arena and number of parking lots. But developers and city officials say they are working on District Detroit again — this time with a new deal.

Led by the Ilitch family’s Olympia Development and Stephen Ross’ Related Companies, the new plans include building four residential buildings, four commercial offices, two hotels, on-site parking and public space enhancements near the Little Caesars Arena.

The project is estimated to cost $1.5 billion and is projected to be done by 2028. What’s notable is that it may take $800 million of publicly subsidized money.

“The Ilitch family has been rooted in Detroit since 1989 and they headquartered their business in Detroit when many businesses did not. So there has been a significant allegiance to the city and to Detroiters.” — Rian English-Barnhill, developer

Listen: Why developers think the District Detroit plans are a good bet for Detroiters


Rian English-Barnhill is the vice president of government and community affairs for Olympia Development. She says the Ilitch family is dedicated to improving the city and expanding development, despite the parking lots that have not yet been developed around the Little Caesars Arena.

“The Ilitch family has been rooted in Detroit since 1989,” says English-Barnhill, “and they headquartered their business in Detroit when many businesses did not. So there has been a significant allegiance to the city and to Detroiters.”

Andrew Cantor is the executive vice president for Related Companies. Cantor says while the development projects have taken too long, the current District Detroit effort would not exist without the investment that has already occurred from the Ilitch family.

“If the arena had not been built and the ball park were not there — part of the reason and the rational for being able to build around it — (it) would not exist,” says Cantor.

Malachi Barrett is a reporter for Bridge Detroit covering the city of Detroit who has been covering the District Detroit development. He says he’s less optimistic that Detroiters will benefit from the project in the way developers suggest.

“I think there will be an argument that this will make Detroit better in some capacity,” says Barrett, “but from the community perspective, there seems to be the feeling that the construction jobs, the tech jobs that result after this project is complete, will not go to a majority of Detroiters and the housing is not going to affordable for folks.”

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