Investor Tony Goldman interested in Detroit properties

Posted on December 1, 2011

The real estate mogul who played a key role in transforming Miami Beach’s South Beach and New York City’s SoHo areas into art destinations says he’s close to making a major investment in downtown Detroit as well as partnering with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to support art projects in the city.

“I make a critical mass statement,” Tony Goldman said in a telephone interview Tuesday from Miami. “I’m a neighborhood builder, and an investment in one building is not going to do it.”

The chairman and CEO of New York-based Goldman Properties Co. says he is “about 90 days” away from sealing deals that would make that kind of investment statement in Detroit.

Goldman has been an early investor in depressed urban neighborhoods for four decades, and many of those investments have paid off. The areas include New York’s Wall Street Financial District and SoHo neighborhood, the Center City in Philadelphia and, more recently, the warehouse district in Miami’s Wynwood area.

Goldman’s track record shows he tends to buy multiple properties in an area and often focuses on creating restaurants as well as renovating hotels and housing.

Goldman said it’s too soon to name specific downtown property or properties he is targeting. He added that he has not worked out whether he would work with partners in the potential deals.

Among the deals he’s working on is being “a substantial adviser to some high net-worth individuals who understand the momentum that’s going on in Detroit,” Goldman said.

For several months, Goldman said he has been in talks with the Knight Foundation to increase support for arts projects. Rishi Jaitly, Detroit program director for the Knight Foundation, confirmed that the group has had discussions with Goldman.

“We have been introducing Tony to leaders and organizations across Detroit. We are trying to best understand how the Detroit connection intersects with Tony’s interests,” Jaitly said. “He knows how to activate communities by investing in people, art and heritage.”

The Knight Foundation funds media innovation, community engagement and the arts.

Goldman said the potential Knight Foundation collaboration is “much farther along than the other stuff.”

But he added: “What I will say is one of my favorite public spaces is Dequindre Cut.”

The Dequindre Cut Greenway is a 1.5-mile recreational path that links the downtown riverfront at the RiverWalk near William G. Milliken State Park and stretches to Gratiot Avenue near Eastern Market.

Formerly a Grand Trunk Railroad line, the below-street level path is known for its urban artwork and graffiti. The Dequindre link passes near the boarded-up empty buildings that once were a thriving cluster of riverfront bars and restaurants before the city targeted the area to make way for casinos that were ultimately built elsewhere.

Goldman and the Knight Foundation have not yet made a formal offer to the Detroit RiverFrontConservancy, the nonprofit that oversees the public riverfront area and the Dequindre Cut. Goldman took a two-hour tour of the area in May when he first visited Detroit, said Faye Alexander Nelson, the conservancy’s president and CEO.

“Mr. Goldman seemed to be very struck with the potential of the riverfront and the Dequindre Cut, and we would certainly love to look at any proposal he and the Knight Foundation offer,” Nelson said.

The nonprofit Knight Foundation already works with the conservancy, Nelson said.

Knight Foundation’s vice president of arts, Dennis Scholl, is a former developer and longtime friend of Goldman’s. Both were early investors in South Beach, the tourist destination known for its Art Deco architecture, fashion and art.

In 1985, Goldman bought 18 Art Deco buildings in South Beach when it was considered too risky for investment.

Goldman is currently in Miami attending Art Basel, one of the biggest art festivals in the world. Goldman is unveiling a major addition to his Wynwood Walls project — a series of murals created by international artists and located at a former dump that Goldman bought several years ago.

Now he is interested in the Motor City.

“Why wait” to invest in Detroit, he said Tuesday. “I follow my instincts. Now’s the time.”

From The Detroit News: