During a groundbreaking last week for the new Little Caesars world headquarters — a nine story, 234,000 square foot space which will double the size of its current home on Woodward and Columbia avenues — speaker after speaker noted the comprehensive effort to ensure that the lion’s share of contracts be awarded to Detroit and Michigan based businesses.
“It’s not just contractors who are getting a boost. I think it’s incredibly important to Detroiters and the surrounding community to have an iconic brand, a global company firmly plant it’s roots right here in the city of Detroit. It’s a sense of pride, for all of us. We are Motown and the Motor City and Hockeytown and we are the ‘Pizza, Pizza’ city too,” said Larry Brinker, Jr., of Brinker-Christman. Brinker-Christman, a Detroit-based construction management company, is leading construction of the Little Caesars world headquarters development. The architectural firm spearheading design is the Detroit-based firm SmithGroupJJR.
Twenty-seven years after moving its headquarters from the suburbs to Detroit’s Fox Office Center in the heart of downtown, Little Caesars is not only making a $150 million investment to expand the current property, it is the cornerstone of The District Detroit’s Columbia Street neighborhood, which is part of the larger $1.2 billion dollar project, dubbed the District Detroit.
The District Detroit development project will transform 50 blocks around Comerica Park and the new Little Caesars Arena into a dynamic mix of new restaurants, shops, bars, parks, offices and places to live. The project will create five unique neighborhoods around six theaters and three professional sports venues to connect Midtown to downtown Detroit, making it a premier community, which will facilitate pedestrian traffic throughout the area.
“Does that comeback include the entire city of Detroit?” Mayor Mike Duggan asked rhetorically. “When Chris Ilitch gives you the numbers, you look around and say ‘200,000 hours of work done by Detroiters, just in this neighborhood already.’ Today, more than 100 Detroiters are working as apprentices on these job sites,” explained Duggan, adding, “They are going to have good paying careers for the rest of their lives because of these projects. … We have Detroiters rebuilding Detroit.”
And, while construction contractors nationwide decry the sad state of local hiring on construction projects nationwide, in large part due to a lack of qualified laborers, Detroit is bucking the national trend as evidenced by the minority contractors and laborers involved in the development of one of the largest construction undertakings in Detroit history, and one of the largest of its kind in the country.
“Olympia Development of Michigan has worked diligently to ensure the participation of Detroit-based and headquartered businesses in construction of the new Little Caesars world headquarters,” said Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings and son of Little Caesars founder Mike Ilitch.
Olympia Development of Michigan is the Ilitch organization leading the project.
“From day one we committed to create real and significant business opportunities for local companies and their workforces through a Michigan Made, Detroit Built development,” said Steve Marquardt, vice president of Olympia Development of Michigan. “Just one year after breaking ground on The District Detroit and the arena project we’ve already awarded more than $300 million to Detroit-based businesses and nearly $500 million to Michigan businesses. This is a significant milestone for our project and is just the beginning. As more developments come on line, so will more business opportunities.”
To date, more than 70 Detroit-based companies have received contracts as part of the project, including major awards to Motor City Electric, Adamo Group, Midwest Steel, Tooles Contracting Group, Ram Construction, Blaze Iafrate JV, ChristenDETROIT and others. These contracts represent work on the new Little Caesars Arena and adjacent properties, including new mixed-use buildings, shopping and entertainment areas.
However, some construction industry insiders say the numbers for local and minority participation in the project are inflated, although they admit even with adjustments for non-Detroit and non-Michigan based companies, the project does comply with an executive order issued by Mayor Duggan in 2015 which requires that at least 30 percent of construction contracts be awarded to local businesses.
Jason Cole, executive director of the Minority Contractors Association, said Olympia Development is operating on a frequently used technique to inflate inclusion rates for Detroit businesses. “[Those numbers] are not proper by any stretch of the imagination … but I know how the game is played,” Cole said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. The methodology for calculating local participation does not deduct subcontracts to outside companies as long as the prime contractor is a Detroit based contractor. The City of Detroit’s Human Rights Department monitors compliance daily to verify the number of hours worked by city residents.
Data from the University of Michigan demonstrates that The District Detroit will ultimately account for an impact of more than $2 billion by 2020 and create 12,500 construction and construction-related jobs and 1,100 permanent jobs. More than $100 million in income from the Little Caesars Arena alone is expected for Detroit residents, with significant additional income to be created through future private development.
“The District’s connecting downtown to Detroit to Midtown Detroit is an absolute key element in Detroit’s next phase of revitalization and recovery,” explained Roderick Miller, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, a private non-profit organization which regularly partners with the City of Detroit to bring large-scale development projects to fruition.
The District Detroit development team in its commitment to hire locally has also partnered with Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation, the city’s workforce agency providing demand-driven services to employers. Metro Detroiters from skilled tradesman to recent high school graduates are encouraged to contact DESC to take the District Detroit Skills Assessment and register for construction jobs.