Downtown Southfield is the Place to Be

Southfield does not have a traditional “downtown” the way we understand traditional downtowns in cities small and large. There is no picturesque Main Street with wrought iron lampposts and perennial flower landscaping lined with charming historic buildings that house independently-owned boutiques and pre-Prohibition-themed craft cocktail bars, and no cluster of towering skyscrapers and city streets bustling with professionals, shoppers, and tourists going about their busy days.
But there is indeed a section of Southfield that is under the management of the Southfield Downtown Development Authority, bordered by 8 Mile to the south, 9½ mile to the north, Greenfield Road to the east and Northwestern Highway to the west. What it “lacks” in traditional downtown living it makes up for in infrastructure and growing industries.
The downtown Southfield quadrant is home to the city’s largest employer, Providence Hospital and Medical Center. Additionally, the Health Alliance Plan office and physical therapy center employ about 800 people.
Downtown Southfield is also home to the fastest-growing community college in Michigan, Oakland Community College, which recently acquired 20 acres of land along 9 Mile Rd. which they will develop over time. OCC’s Southfield campus, located at 9 Mile Rd. and the John C. Lodge Freeway, is the nexus of OCC’s life sciences and math programs, and graduates a good number of nursing students. 
“The strategic vision that has been laid out has been trying to pursue ‘meds and eds’ because of Providence and OCC,” explains Al Aceves, Executive Director of the Southfield Downtown Development Authority. With the healthcare industry being one of the strongest in the country right now with continued growth expected, Southfield has both the current jobs as well as the talent pipeline for future jobs in the industry.
In keeping with the “meds and eds” focus, the Southfield DDA is considering a medical wellness center, and has entered an agreement in partnership with Oakland County Medical Main Street, Health Alliance Plan, Providence Hospital, NAI Farbman Medical Real Estate Solutions, and Solo Development to enter a phase 1 market study to determine if they have the market to support a medical wellness center.
Right in the middle of downtown Southfield is Northland Center, the oldest mall in America. While Northland has its own team responsible for leasing retail space inside the mall, the Southfield DDA works with the owners on different development strategies on land that they own potentially new business models for the older shopping center. Aceves says that retail is always a focus of the DDA.
“We’re not your traditional DDA; we’re not Royal Oak or Ferndale, but we do have strips of retail and we work very hard to find retail,” he says. “We work with the International Conference of Shopping Centers and go to their events in Las Vegas and in Michigan. We have a Rolodex of 60-70 retailers that we have talked to regarding facilities here. We continue to work with Northland because it represents such a large part of the DDA’s [land area].”
Still, attracting retailers is difficult when there is no concentrated urban core. “We do have a retail strategy but we need to have daytime and some nighttime traffic to support a retail strategy, so we’re taking an economic development strategy to show retailers that there will be people here to support them. We’re trying to demonstrate that we’re vibrant, that this is a good place for people to market. We’ve got a long way to go but we’re seeing a little glimmer at the end of the tunnel.”
Southfield has largest concentration of commercial buildings in the state. In the past few years, downtown Southfield has seen $106 million in public and private investment over its one square mile, with 930 new jobs created, 1,600 jobs retained, a total of over 900,000 square feet of renovated office space, and over 100,000 square feet of new office space. “Those are some significant numbers in terms of people’s commitment to the area and our success in marketing it,” says Aceves. “We’re very proud and pleased we’ve been able to generate this kind of traffic.”
Major road improvements and renovations on important commercial and residential buildings are also on deck for downtown Southfield, which will help its overall economic development strategy. The city already has some of the best transit infrastructure in Southeast Michigan. “We have one of the most pristine locations around in terms of great access to the north, south, east, and west,” Aceves says. “You can get anywhere [in metro Detroit] fairly quickly with our infrastructure.”
If the official real estate agents’ mantra is “Location, location, location,” then Southfield is in a prime position for future growth.