Running Quicken Loans has made Dan Gilbert a lot richer. But these days, he's known in the Motor City as the man who is out to save Detroit. And earlier this week he called for the creation of an automotive-themed tourist destination in Detroit.
He has bought up building after building in the town's historic and architecturally stunning, but abandoned, downtown. But he knows Detroit needs to find a way to appeal to outsiders, to capture its spirit, its history. And the best way to do it is embrace its heritage as home to the car.
"We have to leverage the sexiness of the car, which we've had a hard time doing in the past," Gilbert said.
Gilbert said he has considered hiring an executive from Universal Studios or Disney to help formulate a proposal, but he is not pitching an amusement park.
Gilbert also argued that Detroit's annual North American International Auto Show should lure more technology companies away from the annual Consumer Electronics Show that is also held in early January in Las Vegas.
The two events in some years have overlapped. Many automakers make major announcements at CES instead of Detroit.
Speaking at a forum recently, Gilbert said he's talked with other Detroit business leaders about a "technology hall" during the Detroit auto show at Cobo Center.
He also suggested that the annual Woodward Dream Cruise in Oakland County, an event in which hundreds of historic vehicles parade up one of the city's most prominent boulevards, could be dramatically expanded, though he didn't offer specific ideas.
More than a "million people are willing to come to southeast Michigan on a hot muggy August weekend, in essence, to see nothing," Gilbert said. "What I mean by that is they're bringing their own thing. Imagine if there was a something. We might get 2.8 million."
But there's no glossing over Detroit's problems. His appearance Wednesday came a day after he took part in disclosing the Detroit blight study, which called for the removal of 40,000 abandoned and blighted buildings.