UMCI breaks ground: Center to spur economic growth, educational enrichment in Detroit


Source: Michigan News

U-M President Santa J. Ono at the UMCI groundbreaking. Photo: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.

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The University of Michigan Center for Innovation in Detroit broke ground Thursday with high-energy musical performances and 13 shovels held by leaders of the partners bringing the project to fruition.

“Today’s groundbreaking is far more than the promise of a new building. It is a profound expression of our sustained and lasting commitment to the city of Detroit, and of our faith in a shining future for the state of Michigan,” said U-M President Santa J. Ono. “It’s a proud moment for all of us.” 

Music from the U-M Student Jazz Trio, Cass Tech Madrigals and the U-M Fanfare Band punctuated the ceremonial dirt lifting and upbeat comments from speakers.

Christopher Ilitch, left, and Stephen Ross, chat at the groundbreaking for the UMCI. Credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.

The center will be funded by a $100 million gift from donor Stephen M. Ross, $100 million from the state of Michigan, a land donation of 2.08 acres at the intersection of Grand River Avenue and West Columbia Street from Olympia Development of Michigan, and an additional $50 million will be raised from donors.

The cornerstone of the first building of the university was laid on Sept. 14, 1817—near the corner of Bates and Congress streets in Detroit—not too far from where the new UMCI will be located.

“Now the University of Michigan is back home and we couldn’t be happier,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a U-M alumnus who was credited with the tenacity and determination to see the project through from idea to happening.

Pictured, left to right: Coleman A Young, II, Detroit city council member; Mary Waters, Detroit city council member and U-M Alum; UMCI Director Scott Shireman; Cass Tech Principal Lisa Phillips; Regent Jordan Acker; Board of Regents Chair Sarah Hubbard; Christopher Ilitch, chair and CEO of Ilitch Holdings; Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; President Santa J. Ono; Stephen M. Ross, chairman of Related Cos.; Regent Mark Bernstein; Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield; Regent Michael Behm; Provost Laurie McCauley; Geoff Chatas, chief financial officer; Fred Durhal, III, Detroit city council. Credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.

Duggan also shared the spotlight with Ross, a major U-M donor and alum and chairman of Related Cos. “The person who make this happen was a son of Detroit… and Stephen what you’ve done, you’ve changed the history of this city.”

Ross, who is a Detroit native, said the UMCI project was “the longest of anything in my career…” But that even through the twists and turns since it was first announced in 2019, “nobody really lost faith because they saw how important this would be.”

Sarah Hubbard, chair of the U-M Board of Regents, said the partnership will bring world-class research, education and entrepreneurship;  innovation and talent-focused community development that will propel job creation in the city, region and statewide, and economic development in the city of Detroit.

Sarah Hubbard, chair of the Board of Regents, talks with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the groundbreaking ceremony. Credit: Eric Bronson.

It will all be “anchored by masters’ degrees and workforce development programs that will focus on technology and innovation,” Hubbard said. “All offered right here in Detroit, under the care of the University of Michigan leadership and built on the foundation of excellence that the Block M represents. We are excited to watch this program unfold, and excited to be making it happen in Detroit.”

Other speakers at the event included, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Mary Sheffield, Detroit City Council president, Chris Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Laurie McCauley, U-M provost, Geoff Chatas, U-M chief financial officer, and Lisa Phillips, principal, Cass Tech High School.

“This is what we can accomplish when we work together and aspire to do tremendous things to lift up the people of our community to new heights. I am truly inspired by this entire initiative,” Ilitch said.

“Today marks the beginning of a transformative journey that will undoubtedly shape the future of education, innovation, and collaboration,” said Phillips. “Together, we are embarking on a journey that will empower our students with unparalleled opportunities to engage in hands-on learning experiences, connect with industry leaders, and explore the boundless possibilities that arise at the intersection of education and innovation.”

Lisa Phillips, principal of Cass Tech High School. Credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.

And Sheffield voiced her belief that the UMCI would help secure the community for decades to come. “UMCI will serve as a vessel that will help us with the critical issue in our city which is retaining our talented, young Detroiters.”

A group of valedictorians from Cass Tech were honored guests at the event.

Laurie K. McCauley, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, invited all of them to apply to U-M. She noted that elementary school students who may see the UMCI could be inspired to apply to obtain their own U-M advanced degrees.

“That is the vision we are here to manifest: a hub of innovation for generations to come,” McCauley said. 

The UMCI will feature an array of inaugural degrees, as well as non-credit workforce development for in-demand areas like programming, entrepreneurship, and data science. And of course, a robust spectrum of community engagement that builds on the hundreds of U-M projects underway in Detroit.

The UMCI will be built on 2 acres of this parking lot, a donation of land from Olympia Development.

The center, along with the P-20 Partnership at the School at Marygrove, the $40 million Rackham building renovation, the U-M Detroit Center, which opened in 2005 in Midtown, and hundreds of other projects U-M works on with community partners around the city, are examples of how the university has stepped up its community engagement in the city in recent years.

UMCI will benefit from being near the proposed $1.5 billion,10-building mixed-use development that Related Companies and Olympia Development have joined forces to develop in The District Detroit near the Fox Theatre and professional sports stadiums.

“When complete, it will be a world-class research, education and entrepreneurship center, one that educates and retains world-class talent, one that drives innovation and economic growth and job creation, and one that empowers the next generation of Detroiters to dream bigger dreams … and transform their dreams into realities,” Ono said.

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