New hope and old woes as Detroit exits bankruptcy

By Joe Szczesny, AFP

DETROIT, Michigan — After the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, Detroit hopes outsiders see its potential and not its history of racial conflict, financial crisis and dramatic population loss. The city, founded as a small French fort on the Detroit River that grew to be a hub of the global auto industry, emerged from bankruptcy last month after shedding almost US$7 billion of its roughly US$18 billion debt. Under the bankruptcy provisions, city workers made concessions and the health care coverage of pensioners was reduced �X but the pensions themselves remained largely intact. And in a boost to remaining civic pride, the Detroit Institute of Arts’ famous collection, with paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Brueghel, remained intact thanks to donations by foundations and private individuals. ��Working together, we can transform the city,�� said Mary Barra, chief executive of General Motors, the city’s most famous corporate resident, after a judge approved the exit from bankruptcy.

��And you can see clear progress in the restoration of downtown, the entrepreneurs who are flocking here, the massive building projects getting underway and the work being done to improve education, neighborhoods and city services,�� she said.

��People always ask me about what’s going on in Detroit,�� said Ania Eaton of the Library Street Collective, who said she had recently been in Miami for an art show and found a lot of interest in Detroit. More galleries are now opening in the city.

��You have more people walking by the gallery. When I moved here five years ago, I only expected to stay a year, but I think there is a lot of potential�� said Eaton, who came to the U.S. from Romania.

In the Russell Street Delicatessen in the 124-year-old Eastern Market, the center of the Detroit’s whole sale food business and one of the city’s major attractions, patrons line up for tables.

��We’re packed like this every Saturday,�� said waiter Kamaul Prendergrass. Work is also progressing on other fronts.

Rock Ventures, one of the companies spawned the billionaire landowner Dan Gilbert, has commissioned one of New York’s most popular architects, SHoP, for new development on the long-vacant site of the vanished Hudson’s Department Store on Woodward Avenue, the city’s principal thoroughfare. There is a new three-mile (five-kilometer) rail line along Woodward, which is lined with several new office, medical and residential developments up into the bustling midtown area.