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Wayne State revives neighborhood, piece by piece

March 8, 2016

Detroit – His name isn’t Gilbert or Ilitch, but the president of Wayne State University is driving a redevelopment engine all his own. “A lot is happening here,” says M. Roy Wilson, the Harvard-educated eye doctor who arrived in summer 2013 to lead Wayne State. “We’ve been struggling with less state resources. We’ve been able to use our philanthropy to offset some of that.” Credit a $17.8 million unrestricted gift from Sam and Helen Hartman, owners of Hartman Appliance. Their donation enabled Wayne State to remain a player in Midtown efforts that otherwise would have been difficult for a public university to join — a $3 million commitment to help fund the M-1 rail project, an investment in the Live Midtown initiative and support for Midtown Inc., among others. “We do own a fair amount of land,” adds Wilson, “and we’re trying to be judicious how we develop it.” That includes a 1.5-acre parcel at Cass and Canfield, near the strip anchored by Shinola and the Jolly Pumpkin; historic homes being converted into student housing and a new alumni house at Ferry and Woodward; and the lot at the southwest corner of Warren and Woodward. A new $50 million business school at Woodward and Temple, made possible by a $40 million gift from Mike Ilitch, expands the university’s reach south, burnishes Wayne State’s brand in a transforming downtown, and helps anchor the Ilitchs’ 45-block Detroit District development. It doesn’t end there. The $26.5 million renovation of the Student Center Building in the heart of campus is a harbinger of a concerted push to upgrade student housing. The university is preparing to convert the Queen Anne-style Thompson House, the former home to the School of Social Work at Cass and Hancock, into student housing. It also is planning a $100 million student housing project that would demolish the Helen DeRoy apartments and build two new student apartment buildings on Anthony Wayne Drive for a net gain of 430 student beds. The 200,000-square-foot iBio center, opened last summer, features collaborative work spaces, labs and other areas that are intended to create an interdisciplinary group of experts working on common problems in behavioral health, environmental sciences and metabolic diseases.