M-1 Rail Workers prepping for tracks

M-1 Rail Workers prepping for tracks

Anyone that has been to Downtown Detroit or Midtown Detroit this year knows that construction of Detroit’s new public transit offering, dubbed M-1 RAIL, has turned the 3.3 Mile route on Woodward Ave. into one big construction zone.  Thankfully, the project appears to be on schedule and the M-1 RAIL should be open for business by the end of 2016. 

The M-1 RAIL system, which Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loans recently secured the naming rights for, will travel on Woodward Ave from Congress Street downtown to West Grand Boulevard just past New Center. There will be 20 different stations serving 12 stops, with most of the stations being curbside on either side of Woodward Avenue going uptown or downtown.

Brookville Equipment Corporation was recently awarded the $32M contract to build six street cars for the system. These three-piece cars are expected to be 66 feet long and be able to carry 125 passengers. They will travel the maximum speed on Woodward of 35 mph and will stop for traffic lights.

60% of the line will also be “off wire”, which means the cars will be operated by state of the art 750-volt rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.  The “off wire” configuration and using batteries for public rail was also recently successfully implemented in Dallas. As in Dallas, the M-1 RAIL will be more pleasing to the eyes because there will be far less overhead wires.

M-1 Rail tracks being laid

M-1 Rail tracks being laid

As the construction nears completion; residential, office, and retail project developers are keeping a watchful eye on how the M-1 takes shape. Initially, the M-1 will offer a mutually beneficial relationship to residential developers – as one grows, the other should too.

History of light rail in other cities such as Portland, Minneapolis, Denver and San Diego has shown that residential developers are the first to reap the rewards of light rail. Olympia Development, Broder & Sachse, and Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate Services, among others; have all announced residential developments of significance on Woodward. Some M-1 proponents peg total new residential development as a result of M-1 at 10,000 over the next several years.

Street scene in Downtown Detroit

Campus Martius streetcars

Streetcars at Campus Martius

Following the basic principal of ‘following the rooftops,’ if these residential projects prove successful, retailers will take note. As it is, Woodward Ave can already boast successful retail projects on its commercial properties and retailers such as Potbellies, Starbucks and Central Michigan University at One Kennedy Square; Starbucks, Bank of America, Fed-Ex and Whole Foods at The Ellington; Radio Shack, Rite Aid, Biggby Coffee and Fat Burger at the Studio One Apartments as well as the The Park Shelton. Detroit Commercial Real Estate also has a great mix of local retail and restaurants such as Busted Bra Shop, Frida, The Peacock Room, Detroit Pizza Co., Wasabi and Fourteen East.

Taking a look at Portland’s retail success brings to light the long-term retail strategy that Detroit needs to strive toward. Even though Portland has about 130,000 less people than Detroit, they are on the fast track. The retail district has high-end retailers, major department store anchors, a diverse customer base, a thriving tourist industry, and a great transit system – all achievable in Detroit with the right plan.

M-1 will allow for comfortable pedestrian access for blocks east and west of Woodward, a concept unfathomable just a few years ago, and allow for a density and vitality that will spread. It is no doubt an exciting time to be in Detroit for developers, retailers and residents alike. We may be seeing a lot of orange right now, but hopefully we will be seeing a lot more green in the near future…a definite plus for Detroit’s Commercial Real Estate Values.

How do you feel M-1 will impact Detroit? Let us know what you think in the comments.