Why Detroit? Why now?

Subject: Thank you and Farewell

Friends and Colleagues,

Today, I leave New York City, the only city I’ve ever called home, along with a life-long collection of friends and colleagues, to make a new home in the city I believe represents the greatest modern possibility in the world: Detroit.

My peers, family and mentors have been equal parts supportive and skeptical.

I’ve heard: Why Detroit? Are you from there?  Nope.

Do you have family there? Nope (although you can never really be too sure)

Can’t you do “this” from New York? Negative.

After years of investment banking grunt work, are you sure now is the right time to leave a tangible career for some unknown possibility? For Detroit: Absolutely.

I’ve thought long and hard about the truest answer to the “Why Detroit?” question.

Detroit is a city with a unique and vibrant culture, an incredible legacy of innovation and a fascinating history both in its shining moments and its more challenged ones. Many forget it was the predecessor to today’s Silicon Valley, actually dwarfing it’s output, for the better part of the 20th century, spurred on by its world leading automotive technological innovation.

By the 1950s, Detroit residents held the country’s highest median household income. By the 1960s, Detroit was the fourth largest city in the U.S., with nearly 2 million residents.  Before Henry Ford even set up shop at the turn of the 20th century, Detroit was already referred to as the “Paris of the Midwest” for its grand architecture and expansive boulevards, financed by the wealth of industry, manufacturing and shipping magnates. You can still see the vestiges of that wealth in the historic homes and basic infrastructure of the city. Many of the neighborhoods retain the look and feel of spaces built for incredibly wealthy people in an incredibly wealthy place during one of the wealthiest eras in American history.

With its bankruptcy in the rear-view mirror, the sustained momentum in the auto industry (the Big 3 are more profitable than they have ever been), increasing commercial activity in the city’s downtown and midtown districts in tandem with the modern generational and global shift towards urban living, Detroit offers young folks a rare operating environment to own and manage affordable real estate assets at a modest entry point, without excessive leverage.

How often does one have an opportunity to make a material lasting impact in a city with a story as rich and poignant as Detroit? A city that, notwithstanding it’s checkered history, continues to maintain its relevance within America’s broader economic landscape and a firm grip on our collective imagination.

During my time in investment banking, I worked closely with some incredibly talented and industrious individuals. I worked on small deal teams responsible for delivering a broad array of financing solutions to dozens of mid-size to Fortune 500 corporations and raised hundreds of billions of dollars in financing, primarily via structured instruments. Financing that, in part, allows American families affordable credit for back to school clothes for their kids, transportation to get to and from work, loans for college and homes in which to live.

From my time as an intern at Lehman Brothers, to working full-time at Barclays Capital, I learned how to maneuver through grueling hours to deliver actionable solutions within pressure packed environments. Following a move to Credit Suisse, I was promoted to Vice President and had grown to be a trusted advisor to my clients, leading some of their most strategic transactions.

What I loved most about the job was the people, particularly my clients. I sat in the middle of a highly developed but constantly evolving ecosystem comprised of people from all over the world with varying competing interests. For any single transaction, I was tasked with managing the interests of the client first and foremost, the lawyers, the accountants, the trustees, our syndicate and sales teams, the traders, my internal credit and business committees, operations and compliance teams, the money managers and investors. It’s a challenging proposition, but afforded me an opportunity to engage with and learn from a hyper-diverse array of individuals. That’s the GOOD.

Now for the BAD: there's a lingering sense of impermanence inherent to the job. Clients that I loved would move on to other positions or companies. The focus is rarely on the now, but rather on the next: the next deal, loan facility or fee opportunity. For a senior banker, your entire livelihood hinges entirely upon your ability to grow and monetize the transaction pipeline, a tension that breeds an unyielding restlessness.

For me, Detroit represents an opportunity to forge a more permanent, lasting connection. I will be able to retain many of great things I loved about my old job: the relationship building, the thrill of the deal, the results oriented analysis and subsequent execution. Except with Detroit, I hope to measure my impact with something more substantial than dollars and cents. I hope to help stabilize and re-invigorate historic neighborhoods, in part by giving homes built 100 years ago another century of life. I hope to democratize a pathway to property ownership and wealth building.

Detroit is a city on an aggressive comeback trail that is now drawing a vast array of individuals to its core: agents who yearn for a new canvas on which to create, to make an impact and to obtain ownership. Detroit is not a blank canvas, but rather an open one with enough space for passionate individuals to make a lasting imprint amidst a rapidly evolving urban backdrop. Its streets are filled with palpable possibility, zealously anchored by a belief in the power of locally propelled transformation, even for the historical doubters.

So why Detroit?  I could say it’s some combination of its people, its opportunities, the possibilities and its history.

But really, though I’ll always love New York, I’m moving to Detroit because, right now, there’s no other place like it.

With love and gratitude,


RecoveryPark to get 35 acres of city-owned land in urban farming deal

Thirty-five acres of city-owned land will be leased to an urban farming initiative expected to spend $15 million in the next three years on Detroit's lower east side.

RecoveryPark, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, would eventually own the land after paying $105 per acre per year to lease it and then purchasing it outright for $3,553 per acre.

Under the agreement, RecoveryPark, which is an offshoot of the SHAR Foundation and aims to create jobs for clients of Detroit-based Self Help Addiction Rehabilitation, would be required to secure or demolish any blighted or vacant structures on the land within 12 months of a signed term sheet.

Two years after RecoveryPark gets the land, it would be required to operate at least 3 acres of greenhouses on the property, increasing to 6 acres and 9 acres by the third year and fourth year, respectively.

The Detroit City Council still has to approve terms of the lease and subsequent sale, according to Gary Wozniak, president and CEO of RecoveryPark. Those approvals are expected this week or next week, he said.

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Keegan-Michael Key on Detroit, work post-Key & Peele, and hyphenated first names

Keegan-Michael Key is one of the biggest names in comedy today, right up there with Louis C.K. and Nick Kroll. The "MadTV" alum and co-creator of Comedy Central's "Key & Peele" also happens to be a Detroit-native and a co-founder of Hamtramck'sPlanet Ant Theater. And on Dec. 22, he's returning home with the 313, an improv troupe composed of Detroit comedians who now live in Los Angeles, for a special performance at the Detroit Institute of Arts presented by the Detroit Creativity Project, a group that seeks to inspire young people through the art of improvisation.

Model D spoke with Keegan-Michael Key by phone about Detroit, his work post-"Key & Peele," and his hyphenated first name. 

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