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Home show fuels Detroit revival

Hundreds of exhibitors offering improvement ideas include city's pitch as a place to relocate.

Doug Guthrie / The Detroit News

March 12, 2006

DETROIT -- Among the landscaped brick paths, burbling waterfalls and home improvement displays set up inside Ford Field for this weekend's Michigan Home & Garden Show, Kijuanna Page found a booth promoting a return to living in Detroit.

She climbed aboard a bus with about 30 others and took a two-hour tour Saturday of rehabilitated historic homes, dazzling new townhouses and trendy lofts inside former industrial buildings.

"It's like nothing I've seen or even imagined about Detroit. It makes me want to move back," said the Sterling Heights resident who works at the DaimlerChrysler AG headquarters in Auburn Hills.

City Living Detroit is offering tours free through today's 6 p.m. close of the show. A $10,000 grant from LaSalle Bank also will fund more tours this summer. The group hopes to squelch notions that Detroit is a place to flee, and show it is becoming a vibrant destination for life, work and play.

"If you live in Royal Oak, you are coming down to Detroit anyway if you want the real culture and night life of this region," said Austin Black, a real estate agent and president of City Living Detroit.

Page said the condominiums she saw don't fit her needs of a yard and bedrooms for her children. But, she said her future empty nest plans may now include Detroit.

Black, 25, was born in Detroit and raised in Troy. A recent graduate of Cornell University, he said he returned to a different Detroit than the one he left in 1999. Detroit's Riverfront is coming to life with an $80 million Riverwalk, the construction of a large and permanent MGM Casino, the new Compuware building overlooking Campus Martius Park, and a surge of pricey condominium projects.

Black claims deals in Detroit are reasonably priced and many can offer a break on Detroit property taxes -- which are among the steepest in Michigan.

Margaret and Scott Newton had lived in downtown Boston and wanted another urban setting when they moved here two years ago. The settled on Royal Oak because they said Detroit didn't offer the conveniences they found in downtown Boston.

They had come Saturday to get ideas for sprucing up their home. There are hundreds of exhibitors at the home and garden show displaying products for every aspect of the home, from lumber to lighting, siding to spas, vacuums to vases. The displays crowd from the concourses onto the football playing surface. The Newtons also stopped at the City Living Detroit booth.

"We love living in a city," Scott Newton said. "I could walk to a grocery store in Boston, but that wasn't going to happen in Detroit."

Margaret Newton added, "It's counter productive to live in a city and still need a car to get to the things you need."

Danielle Veggian, 30, a mechanical engineer at a company in Troy, said she is considering commuting from a factory loft in the city to her job in the suburbs because she wants to be part of the movement that causes merchants to bring services back to the city.

"Somebody has to move first," she said. "Somebody has to make it so businesses will follow."

But, living in Detroit has large economic drawbacks, said Ron Uhouse who had come to the show to get ideas for a house he bought in Grosse Pointe Woods. Uhouse, 45, lived in an apartment near Wayne State University and wanted to invest in a home in Detroit but gave up after considering taxes and insurance.

Uhouse said property taxes for his $175,000 Grosse Pointe Woods home are about $3,000 a year. He said property taxes for a home of the same value in Detroit were $6,000. Car insurance in Detroit cost him $2,200 a year. In Grosse Pointe Woods, $800.

"It's homeowners that make a city, not renters, but I couldn't afford the taxes and the insurance," Uhouse said. "It was cheaper for me to buy in Grosse Pointe Woods. It's gotten to a point where residents of Detroit have to be renters or rich."

Black said that's why tax abatements make Detroit properties so attractive.

"The thought is that after 12 years, things will have turned around in Detroit and taxes will be lowered," Black said. "This is a city built for 2 million people that currently has fewer than a million in it. That's caused a high tax rate and that's changing because this place has a lot to offer and it will grow again."

You can reach Doug Guthrie at (734) 462-2674 or dguthrie@detnews.com.

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