Rock Ventures is going to build a 535,000-square-foot, Z-shaped parking garage and retail development that will zig zag from the corner of Broadway and East Grand River to the corner of Gratiot and Library, the company announced Thursday. The structure will have 33,000 square feet of ground floor retail space and 1,300 parking spaces. The project is scheduled to begin this month and be complete in December 2013. The resulting building will be “a distinctive structure utilizing color, glass and original artwork,” the company said.Gilbert, whose company now owns 15 buildings with a combined 2.6 million square feet of commercial space in Detroit, has said that this will not be the typical "holding cell for automobiles." At a recent leadership summit, Gilbert noted:
“This is what I’m talking about,” he said, referring to typical parking structures. “I got a spreadsheet here, I’m going to build a parking garage as cheap as I can. If I do that, I’m going to get rid of all that dumb retail on the lower level, because I can get more spots in. If I can get more spots in, I can sell more parking. … We don’t think that way, we’re thinking in a way, you know, we’re never going to put parking on a lower level of the city where you want people to be walking around and have an urban core, that’s ridiculous.”What Gilbert is referring to is the usual government central planning model wherein there is no profit motive to design and build urban structures that will attract core businesses and draw paying customers to the urban environment by embracing beauty and functionality. Private entrepreneurs like Gilbert see the larger vision that takes into consideration the "organic whole" of cities.
“We’re going to design this in a unique way, with lights and art around it,” he said. “Each floor is going to painted by graffiti artists, with all kinds of cool colors and numbers … So it becomes an experience. When people come to Downtown Detroit here, before they even get into the garage, before they even park their car, it’s an experience. Because if we can’t compete against the suburbs on things like this, then it’s going to come down to a spread sheet and cost.”The media likes to make note of Dan Gilbert's "war on spreadsheets," but what Gilbert really means is that the old model of looking only at ROI (return on investment) is no longer useful to him in a time and place where qualitative factors and long-term objectives aren't captured in relatively simple financial models.