As Dan Gilbert recovers from a stroke, his impact on Cleveland and Detroit cannot be overstated

Posted at 4:28 PM, May 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-28 18:14:35-04

Below is a personal account of reporter John Kosich's professional interactions with Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and Gilbert's many contributions to the city of Cleveland.

CLEVELAND — Walking through Tower City in May of 2012 with Cleveland Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert was like walking backstage with a rock star. It was just ahead of the opening of the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland and as we walked to an open entrance for a quick tour and interview, we were being stopped by random people looking to to shake Gilbert's hand and offer their thanks for his $350 million investment in converting the first four floors of the long empty Higbee Building into the state's first casino.

As we sat down, I brought those interactions up to him and asked if he was aware that there was likely no person in this city, elected, appointed or self-anointed, who has more of an impact on this city's future right now than him? "I don't know if I totally realize that," Gilbert said. "I'm very humbled by it all and you know I just feel good that look we can make a positive impact. We actually call it 'doing well by doing good' and we don't think those are in conflict."

Driving through downtown Cleveland seven years later and you see the growing reach of Gilbert's footprint as work continues on the final phases of the $185 million transformation of the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, while a block away the same level of construction activity was going on inside the May Company Building, which one of Gilbert's companies purchased in 2017 and is currently undergoing its own transformation into a mixed-use facility with retail on the first floor, more than 300 apartments above.

All of this sits adjacent to the Higbee, which Gilbert would go on to buy outright and relocate more than 400 Quicken Loans employees to its upper floors above the now Jack Casino. Other purchases include Tower City Center and the Ritz Carlton Hotel that is part of it.

"We're about urban development both in Detroit and in Cleveland, and these industrial old rust belt cities are now emerging with life," Gilbert told me that day. "If we can be part of that impact and be profitable at the same time than everybody wins."

Profits weren't the only driving force for Gilbert. If you've ever traveled to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, you know the goal of any casino is once they get you in their doors to never give you an excuse to leave. That's why every property has a lengthy list of dining and entertainment options. But that wasn't what Gilbert promised voters in 2009 when he asked them to approve casino gambling, he vowed to keep dining options inside the casino to a buffet and a few other selections with the hopes of driving people out into downtown.

"They're going to have dinner on East 4th Street or West 6th Street or one of the other great restaurants in the area, go to Playhouse Square, go to a Cavs game, come to the casino as part of it. We want to be part of the whole entertainment destination of Downtown Cleveland," Gilbert said. "We're trying to honor our campaign promises which was to create an urban destination that feeds both ways, in and out, where people won't just say 'Hey I'm going to the casino,' they're going to say, 'I'm going to downtown Cleveland.'"

What he's done for Cleveland though is small in comparison to the $5 billion investment he's made in downtown Detroit, buying up and refurbishing more than 100 buildings for his Quicken Loans empire which he brought downtown from the suburbs in 2010.

A headline Tuesday in Forbes two days after his stroke read "A stricken Dan Gilbert, Detroit's unparalleled benefactor, draws the concerns of a city."

Two cities to be precise.

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