On a recent Saturday night, inside the Checker Bar & Grill in downtown Detroit, someone mentions the name of Detroit's most recognizable billionaire. A thirty-something gentleman sitting nearby, nursing a PBR, lets out an audible sigh and shakes his head, again and again.
"I hate that guy," he says, slowly.
That's a view of Daniel Gilbert, founder of online lending giant Quicken Loans, the public doesn't hear about too often. The barfly's feelings are likely grounded in a number of peculiarities: perhaps it's simply in disdain for Gilbert's public profile, that he's now synonymous with Detroit; or that he doesn't like the idea of one man having so much control over the direction the city will head in the coming years; or, there's the fact that a mortgage lender has risen from the ashes of the 2007 housing market collapse to become the city's biggest booster.
Gilbert, 52, who lives in the Oakland County village of Franklin, has ushered in a remarkable turnaround for Detroit's quiet downtown. The roughly 60 buildings he owns bustle with activity, and an estimated 12,000 employees (more than 2,500 of whom are Detroit residents) of his 110 companies now pay Detroit income taxes — including employees at Bedrock Real Estate Services, Fathead, and Greektown Casino. The timing of his decision to move his companies downtown was also fortunate for him: Detroit was pummeled by the financial crisis, bringing about a cascade of foreclosures and near rock-bottom prices for real estate. His efforts have helped shift the national spotlight on Detroit from municipal nightmare to the underdog everyone wants to see win.
Politics also appeared to make it an easy call: Thanks to then-Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the state and city agreed to cough up to $200 million in tax incentives over two decades to woo Gilbert's enterprise. Though many forget, Gilbert dangled the prospect of moving Quicken HQ to Cleveland, before conceding to the Cleveland Plain Dealer that it's "awfully hard to move 3,500 people."
Yet rarely do we get a glimpse into the skepticism of those like that guy on the barstool. One exception might be journalist Mark Binelli, who questioned Gilbert's good intentions back in February 2013, before the state appointed an emergency manager for Detroit and officials buckled and filed for municipal bankruptcy.
"Detroiters who are worried about ceding local power to Michigan's Republican governor shouldn't forget the ways in which power has already been ceded to an unelected oligarchy, whose members might, no matter how ostensibly well intentioned, possess questionable ideas about urban renewal," Binelli wrote.
It's no question Gilbert's profile has risen due to his successful efforts in bringing businesses into downtown. But it has also been aided and abetted by an adoring public, one that wants to see Detroit thrive like it did when the auto industry still reigned, by any means necessary.
With such a widespread presence, it becomes easier to see why some have wondered aloud if local media outlets themselves can maintain a healthy level of skepticism of Gilbert's efforts. Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, Detroit-based journalist Anna Clark wrote that "local coverage of Gilbert reveals some solidly informative reporting, some glaring gaps, and the occasional cringe-worthy moment."
One of those glaring gaps, for instance, is what connection Quicken had with the housing crisis of 2007. When questions have been raised, the company has vehemently downplayed any role, bristling at any slight possibility Quicken's exalted name could take a hit.
Gilbert pushes back against any allegation by painting Quicken as one of the good guys of the industry, a lender that didn't mingle with the type of risky loans and bad practices that eventually generated economic catastrophe — especially in Detroit.
The devastating blow of the housing market crash in Detroit, where Quicken has closed $353 million in loans over the last nine years (most of which came between 2005 and 2008), was laid out in a 2009 report from the city's planning and development department:
Between 2004 and 2006, there was a total of 330,000 mortgages secured by properties in Detroit.
During that same period, 38,000 new mortgages were sold, of which 27,500 were considered subprime, or, "high cost loans ... with interest rates at least 3 percent above the typical rate." (Though the definition of subprime has varied, that essentially is a common standard in the industry for such risky loans.)
From 2005 to 2007, Detroit witnessed 67,000 homes fall into foreclosure, more than 20 percent of the total household mortgages.
By the end of 2006, the interest rate of approximately 29,000 adjustable rate mortgages in the city reset to a higher rate, "triggering higher payments for loan recipients." Between 2008 and 2010, 16,000 more would see their interest rates reset.
And the problems haven't gone away yet: A study released earlier this year found 47 percent of Detroit's homeowners remain underwater on their mortgages, meaning they owe more than their homes are worth. In 2013, 4,830 homes in the city went into foreclosure.
In the wake of the industry's implosion, Quicken emerged unscarred. Since the mortgage crisis dissipated, Gilbert has amassed an even larger fortune and the biggest stake — and subsequently, clout — in the way Detroit seeks to rebuild itself.
While doing so, the notion that Quicken escaped the foreclosure crisis without any stains on the company's record has been seemingly accepted by the public.
Reports and profiles of Gilbert attribute the reason Quicken escaped the economic collapse to the company's approach to business, and that it stuck with safe practices and safe products.
But lawsuits, federal settlements and records, and interviews with experts offer a conflicting perspective: It's not that Quicken wasn't hurt by the foreclosure crisis because it avoided risky loans — it wasn't hurt because it passed the risk off to others as soon as the loans were made.
A Tour of the (Mostly) Familiar
Quicken has some notable blots on its lending record: There's a $6.5 million settlement the company reached in 2009 with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. over loans it sold to the now-defunct IndyBank that turned sour. Quicken assumed no liability or wrongdoing.
There also remain a number of active lawsuits that accuse the company of lessening its underwriting standards for loans when times were good. At least one case showed a Detroit homeowner who faced foreclosure after securing his home with a complex loan from Quicken in 2006. It was a particular product that has earned the ire of consumer advocates and lawmakers in light of the housing industry's implosion.
What's interesting about the allegations, now seven years removed from the height of the crash, is Gilbert's continued insistence that Quicken exclusively slung quality product.
In a recent interview with Forbes (where he mused that "debt is what's going to kill you"), Gilbert said that Quicken avoided risky loan products and subprime borrowers.
To the casual observer, it would appear that these statements conflict with the image of the company Gilbert has portrayed to the public. It seemed prudent to reach out to Quicken to ask for some face-to-face time with Gilbert on the company's relationship with the lending industry during the boom years, especially considering the impact it had on the nation.
After three weeks of waiting, a Quicken spokesperson told us Gilbert wasn't available to chat by a deadline to meet in-person, Oct. 24. On Friday, Oct. 23, I sent along 23 questions, with the hope of receiving a response within the following week.
Apparently, that sparked a change of heart: Aaron Emerson, Quicken's director of communications, asked if I could come in on Halloween for a day's worth of interviews with multiple executives. The company would not send written responses to my questions.
The fact they wanted to devote an entire day's worth of resources for this story fascinated me. The day before my meet-and-greet, Emerson sent an itinerary for the day.
Oddly, the first hour-and-a-half was blocked out for a "tour" with the company's Detroit ambassador, Bruce Schwartz.
'We just did not do them'
I wasn't expecting Gilbert's office to be within an earshot of other employees. On the walk to his office I feel like an awkward 5-foot-7 gump. Inside, there's a cut-out of his face leaning on one wall, there's a table where Gilbert directs me to have a seat. His 10th floor office, a small cluttered room inside the Compuware building, looms over Campus Martius. I feel welcomed, at ease.
To make things easier on the both of us, I decide to open with a soft set of questions. Favorite Michigan beer? Gilbert says he's not a beer guy, really, and settles on Stroh's. Gilbert's idol growing up? His grandpa, he says, who grew up in Detroit. They moved out to the suburbs eventually, but he maintains an intimate connection to the city for that reason. His father also owned a bar in the city.
Lastly, I ask him if he actually was a TV reporter earlier in his career. He laughs, "You really did your research," adding that he can't recall a reporter ever asking him about that time in his life. Gilbert had a sports show on a cable station at Michigan State University, where he graduated with a degree in telecommunications.
Eventually, he spent four months working for WKZO-TV in Kalamazoo, covering day-to-day news. He shared camera duties with a partner who would also read the news. He soon realized he didn't have the interest in pursuing a career as a reporter.
"I just realized, I don't know, it just probably wasn't my thing," he says.
He reflects on the answer, and adds that he hasn't seen any footage in about five years. "I have to figure out where it is," he says, with a light laugh.
There's a mantra Gilbert reiterates when asked about what the company is doing in Detroit: "Do well by doing good." What's that about?
"I think there's a belief, and maybe rightfully so, about how certain companies and corporations have behaved over the years," he says.
He uses that phrase to explain that, in fact, some companies are not just "profit-based." There are some that are also "mission-based."
"We also don't believe there's conflict in that," he says. "There are a lot of people who believe there's a conflict in that — if you make profit, it has to be bad."
That's the not the case with Quicken, he says. Since the company moved to Detroit, it boosts morale and makes employees feel like they're not solely coming to work for a profit-making business. There's more at stake here.
"So that's the general way we look at it," he says. "You can do both ... in our case, we obviously picked up a lot of property that was very low-priced, and I'm sure we wouldn't plan on selling it for years, not decades, if ever."
He continues: "And I'm sure there's a built-in gain there, but ... for us, it was, let's get in, let's help these buildings, and let's make it happen. And we just believe — one of our 'isms,' as hokey as it is, is 'money follows' — there's not necessarily a conflict in that." Gilbert occasionally hits the table to emphasize points. At 5-foot-6, he has a commanding presence in the room, answering questions with ease. He's wearing a brown-ish fleece and his hair is slicked-back, like it looks in every photo of him.
"Isms," for the uninitiated, are Gilbert's 19 corporate mantras that are defined in a thick book given to every employee, and seen throughout the workspaces of every company in the Quicken family. Examples: "There is no they." (Everyone is in this together.) "We eat our own dog food." (Employees should be the biggest fan of Quicken.)
Back to his point, Gilbert says, "There's clearly a conflict in people who do things they shouldn't be doing."That transitions nicely into my next question: Why does he maintain Quicken never slung rotten loans? The company avoided it, he maintains.
But asked if what really protected the company was that it was a loan originator more than a lender, he responds, "We're [still] collectible. We have reps and warranties on all these loans. They can come back to us. So we didn't do them. We just did not do them."
The issue at hand with the $6.5 million Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) settlement relates to the so-called representations and warranties Gilbert alludes to. That refers to reference language included in any sale of loans that allows the purchaser to find loans that don't meet standards, and then require the originator to buy them back. At the time, the FDIC worked out an agreement with Quicken to keep the settlement confidential, as the Los Angeles Times detailed it. The FDIC later declined to comment about the settlement, citing agency policy.
But there are those who insist that Quicken escaped the pitfalls of the mortgage meltdown because they immediately sold the rights to nearly 90 percent of the loans the company originated during the housing boom years, 2005 to 2007.
The lending model that became the name of the game during the mid-2000s was this: quantity over quality. At the turn of the century, it had become more typical for loans to be bundled into a pool, sold to another lender, and then eventually sold again as a mortgage-backed security on Wall Street.
Gilbert bristles, saying it's commonplace for loans to be sold into the secondary market.
"Except for a handful of banks that just keep a handful of their loans in portfolio, on their balance sheet, every other loan that's originated in the United States — whether from a bank, mortgage company, mortgage broker — is sold into the secondary market," he says. "That was true then [and it's] true now."
But, while Quicken may have been liable, as Gilbert contends, the buyback period was limited to a finite time span, typically up to one year, Steve Dibert, founder of mortgage fraud investigation company MFI-Miami, later tells me. After that, the repercussions of potentially shoddy loans were left to the purchaser, he says. And if an auditor ever reviewed the package of loans, they reviewed a fraction of a percent, Dibert says.
Back inside Gilbert's office: Even so, he says, the buyback of loans due to breached representations and warranties is a commonality in the lending industry He takes pains to stress that this is unrelated to problems that led to the mortgage industry's implosion of 2007. It is common.
When Quicken sells a loan into the secondary market, Gilbert says there are two instances where the company must represent and offer warranties on what it has sold. First, he says, there's borrower fraud.
That is, "the borrower commits fraud on that loan and we just didn't catch it for fraud, and then we sell that loan, and then later on it defaults and [the purchaser catches] fraud in the loan ... they can push that loan back to us," he says. "Some borrowers are pretty damn good at fraud."
Then, there's internal fraud, "which was almost never the case," says Gilbert. "There may have been a handful of loans."
He adds: "This is something that has gone on for 25-30 years," he says of repurchasing mortgages. "[T]here's X amount of loans ... [and] a small percentage goes bad, which, when you're doing a large volume, can be a lot of loans, the first thing [the purchaser wants] to do is ask, 'Can we push the loan back?'"
What generally happens then, Gilbert says, is a negotiation.
"These settlements happen all the time," he said, adding, "This [was] just a routine settlement. We probably settled more than $6.5 million in loans this month with investors." Basically, he's saying yeah, this is just part of the game.
On the surface, saying Quicken never messed with subprime lending is, at the very least, a confusing, definitive statement to make. A review of published reports during the height of the housing boom show a narrative that bounces back and forth from reiterating Gilbert's line that Quicken didn't dabble in risky loans to a contradictory picture.
In March 2007, for instance, Quicken CEO Bill Emerson spoke on CNN about the subprime mortgage industry, and said that 2 percent of the company's total lending business was in subprime loans.
Quicken's chief economist, Bob Walters later echoed the same remark to
The Detroit News.
And yet, later that year, The Detroit News reported that, in 2006, Quicken sold the third-highest amount of subprime loans in metro Detroit. That accounted for just over 20 percent of its business in the metro Detroit area that year. So while 2 percent of the company's overall business was subprime, it made up over 20 percent of its business in metro Detroit.
In June 2008, News financial columnist Brian O'Connor wrote that a pool of loans at the center of a legal dispute between Quicken and Wells Fargo included "subprime adjustable-rate mortgages to home equity lines of credit, [which] were sliced and diced so many ways, and passed around to so many buyers, that everyone claimed risk had been diversified right out of the system."
As Gilbert puts it, though, subprime lending comes down to a matter of how the word is defined. There really is no objective definition, he says. What it was in 2006 and what it is today are entirely different.
He stresses this point. It's the one thing that "drives him crazy" — reports that question whether or not Quicken sold subprime. Patiently, I hear him out, meanwhile wondering why years-old apparent inconsistencies even remain an issue for him.
"There's no set definition of what is subprime," Gilbert says. "The only thing that really is defined is conforming, Fannie, Freddie, FHA loans," he says, adding, "Everything else ... nonconforming, subprime, alternative lending, jumbo [loans] ... nobody's got a real definition."
Gilbert says that judging a loan applicant can be broken down into four categories: credit score, the home's appraised value, employment history, and assets.
"That's it," he says, "... the first two is what drives it. And if you got loans that are high LTV (loan-to-value) and bad credit, you're going to have problems.
"That, to me, is subprime."
Gilbert also highlights the company's ranking by the Federal Housing Administration as having the third-lowest delinquency rating among lenders. Called the "compare ratio," it compares the number of delinquencies to the FHA's national average.
The conversation between us continues at a steady pace, however, and I never directly clarify this point with Gilbert. So, in a follow up email, citing CEO Emerson's 2007 remarks on CNN, I ask if the company ever sold subprime loans, and how much of it constituted the company's total lending.
Quicken spokesperson Aaron Emerson says the vast majority of the company's business over the years has been and is "straight vanilla, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and FHA home loans."
"[I]f you are using the word 'subprime' as is most commonly used in today's world, which refers to toxic loans with 12%, 13%, 14% or even higher interest rates that was responsible for the collapse of the US mortgage market and even the US economy: NO, QUICKEN LOANS NEVER PARTICIPATED NOR ORIGINATED THESE TYPES OF LOANS," he writes me in an email.
He adds: "As far as the specific stories you cite ... the paragraphs above should give you full and satisfactory explanation, and if not then the reports were flat-out wrong."
Got that? This, in response to a question as to why the company's CEO himself told a national news outlet that a fraction of his company's business in the mid-2000s was in subprime loans. In other words, PR Emerson strongly denies what CEO Emerson is on the record admitting.
What about this?
OK, so maybe they skirted selling an abundant amount of subprime loans. But what about this: Why is Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. currently suing Quicken over loans it originated, accusing the company of misrepresentions, omissions, or commission of "fraud in the loan origination process."
"The reviews revealed that many of the mortgage loans did not possess the represented characteristics and safeguards at the time of the securitization," the complaint filed by Deutsche Bank says. Essentially, securitization is the process of combining a pool of contractual debt, such as residential mortgages, and selling that pool to investors with mortgage payments as security.
"Instead, therefore, of receiving a pool of loans having the characteristics and quality represented by Quicken, the trust received a far riskier and less stable loan pool," the complaint continues.
Deutsche cites an instance where borrowers misrepresented their income to Quicken, whom the complaint says "failed to test the reasonableness of such income."
According to the complaint, one borrower stated he was a restaurant manager, with a monthly income of $10,000 on his application for a loan. As it turns out, the borrower's income tax statements showed he earned only $4,621 per month.
Records MT reviewed show the $171,000 loan in question for a home in Detroit was a five-year, hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) rider, which initially allowed the borrower to make payments that didn't even cover the monthly 6.875 percent interest costs. It bears mentioning that, at any given time, the borrower was afforded the ability to pay a larger amount to pare down the principal.
After five years, the interest rate could then begin to change, records show, with a maximum interest rate of 11.875 percent. At that point, the borrower could have begun to make interest-only payments.
The borrower never reached that point. The Detroit home in question was eventually lost to foreclosure in 2010, records show. Attempts to reach the homeowner were unsuccessful.
It has also been established that Quicken sold so-called "stated-income loans," which eventually earned the pejorative title of "liar loans," as a borrower would only be required to state how much they earned without any supporting documentation. The company says it would test the "reasonableness" of an applicant's figure by comparing it to an independent salary tool like Salary.com. And it would verbally verify the applicant's employment with his or her stated employer.
Which brings me back to my day in Gilbertville, as it's pejoratively or lovingly called — depending on if you're Forbes or a local barstool historian.
During the rest of my meeting with Gilbert, I breeze through topics he seemingly expected me to touch on: the still-ongoing employment overtime lawsuits, the predatory lending case in West Virginia (which Gilbert calls "one of the most egregious things I've ever seen in business"), and what the company is doing downtown.
On the overtime lawsuits (and, really, on the vast majority of lawsuits the company considers meritless), Gilbert says: "When companies settle, they become co-conspirators, because they just feed the monster. We're not going to do that ... For us, I couldn't look at our people every day and say we paid this." He emphasizes that the company has faced only one, maybe two court judgments in its 29-year history.
After a fast-paced 75 minutes, Gilbert and I part ways. Gilbert tells me during our interview to ask direct questions about lending claims to the remaining group of about a dozen I'll interview for the day, all white males, besides one black female, Leslie Andrews, director of community outreach in Detroit for Quicken and one black male, Tony Nuckolls, vice president of training and development. Emerson takes me down to the ninth floor to meet with them.
On the way down, I return to this point: Access for a journalist is needed in some circumstances, sure. Right now, I still am surprised by the kind I've been given. Why all the trouble?
Over the course of the next 90 minutes with some of the company's top execs and legal counsel, the conversation zeroes in on a number of issues related to legal complaints filed against Quicken and the company's overall culture. Some pick away at sandwiches catered by the nearby Potbelly Sandwich Shop and take pulls on provided Kirkland bottles of water.
This group of top Quicken reps, located in what I believe was called the Boblo Room, never gets around to discussing specifics on certain lawsuits I mention in the initial set of emailed questions to the company, because it becomes evident early on that everyone in the room would speak only in generalities.
So in the same follow-up email to Emerson, I ask directly about the specific loan for the Detroit homeowner referenced in the Deutsche lawsuit. Emerson tells me to "keep in mind" that the company has sold more than 2 million loans, and for years has had stringent underwriting controls in place.
"However, when a national home lender closes more than 2.1 million mortgages, one would always be able to find a handful of loans and situations — even with the most stringent controls in place — where something potentially went wrong," he writes.
And, he continues, "Clearly, it would be an unfair characterization that anything in our underwriting or loan processing systems is defective using a handful of loans (or even hundreds of loans or more) as evidence of such."
I wonder if Emerson's response would be similar if I included the fact that the same lawsuit from Deutsche mentions a loan for a home in Washtenaw County where the borrower allegedly represented he earned $13,500 per month. As it turns out, the borrower's bankruptcy documents filed after he received the loan show, he only earned roughly $8,837 per month.
Or, if perhaps Emerson's response would change if I had mentioned the lawsuit filed by a Romulus woman who claimed her Quicken loan officer, one day before closing, increased her closing costs by roughly double — and then gave her an interest rate nearly 2 percentage points higher. The net effect? The homeowner's monthly cost shot up $850 dollars, or 73 percent, to $2,036 per month, court documents show. Still, the homeowner, the director of human resources at Wayne County's Third Circuit Court, signed anyway, which is partly why her case was dismissed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Or, perhaps his response would have changed if I had mentioned the 79-year-old retired woman on a fixed income I recently met who, seven years ago, was sold a 30-year mortgage for a home that was already paid off. She needed the financing to make necessary repairs to the home. The terms of her agreement required her to pay interest-only for the first decade.
She will be 102 when her mortgage is fully amortized.
'A Friendly Reminder'
While profiles of the business mogul paint the picture of a man who's driven to rebuild the city, Gilbert makes no bones about it that he doesn't possess a silver bullet to resolve all of Detroit's problems. That hasn't stopped a number of prestigious news organizations from raising the billionaire's standing to that of a savior.
With that, Gilbert has been recognized as someone who's quick to speak his mind. At times, his word is taken into consideration to almost-comical points: For instance, after CBS' 60 Minutes broadcast a report about Detroit that included an interview with Gilbert, the billionaire wasn't pleased with the finished product. So he tweeted about it. Promptly, local outlets took his comment and wrote stories grounded entirely upon his tweet.
In 2008, Crain's Detroit Business penned an exposé on a convoluted lawsuit involving Quicken-financed mortgages. Quicken contended a borrower had conspired to fraudulently purchase 16 homes through the company. As Anna Clark noted in CJR, "Crain's saw the lender as part of a culture of 'easy money, rushed deals.'"
Crain's noted inconsistencies on the borrower's loan applications with Quicken: "Her income ranged from $5,000 to $35,000 per month ... her liquid assets from $5,000 to $35,000," the newspaper reported. "Five times, she was a first-time home buyer."
At the time, Gilbert was incredulous.
"Crain's came to these intellectually impotent conclusions over 16 loans where we are the plaintiff suing for fraud," Gilbert wrote in a response letter to Crain's. "The other approximately 400,000 loans we closed in all 50 states over the past eight years avoiding fraud, subprime and other short-sighted mortgage fads of the last decade somehow went unaccounted for in the articles."But, only three years later, real estate reporter Michael Hudson of the Center for Public Integrity took a deep dive into Quicken's record. To some, Hudson found, Quicken had in fact hopped onto the bandwagon with some of those mortgage fads. Between lawsuits from employees who painted a work culture unlike the one Gilbert portrays to the public, and cases involving borrowers who contended they were given a raw deal from Quicken, Hudson wrote those "claims are at odds with [Quicken's] squeaky clean image."
No local media followed Hudson's lead. When a reporter from CBS News asked Quicken for comment on the story, the company jumped to extremes. A spokesperson immediately sought to discredit Hudson, who has covered the finance industry for over two decades, and his outlet as a "not very credible source."
Nearly four years after the report was published, Gilbert tells me that the Center for Public Integrity is "biased against us." Before I left for my other interviews, he provided me with a daunting nine-page, point-by-point rebuttal that seemingly was shared with local media outlets at the time Hudson's report was published. Clearly the perceived offense years ago is still on his mind.
Another current employee who declined to be named says that Quicken, as a whole, is very touchy about news coverage and actively seeks out the identities of those who speak to the media anonymously — characterizing the process as a "very diligent" hunt to out those who talk.
That concern runs up the chain. When Metro Times sister paper Cleveland Scene made exploratory phone calls to employees on a Quicken story unrelated to the housing crisis, it received an unprompted email from Tad Carper, VP of Communications for the Cleveland Cavaliers, asking what the Quicken story was all about.
And when MT wrote a lowly three-paragraph blog post about one of Gilbert's gaming entities being fined in Ohio, our phones blew up for hours as his press reps sought out an editor to change the headline, worried it would cost them a gambling license.
Even when it comes to potential errors made by smaller, left-leaning online news outlets, Quicken makes a point to reach out. Late last year, in response to a story from Voice of Detroit on the planned redevelopment of another building in Capitol Park, a spokesperson repeatedly sought a correction to clarify Gilbert's connection to the developers of the project.
Surprisingly, a number of people not involved with Quicken or the media discouraged us from running this story, as if Gilbert's powerful influence has seeped into Detroit's collective consciousness.
What does it say about Detroit?
There will be years to come to debate the relative impact of Gilbert's investment in Detroit. Many boosters feel energized that this is the moment, finally, Detroit has been awaiting.
Still, there are mentalities at odds in Detroit questioning how the city should grow. The discussions boil down to a simple, philosophical question: What is a city supposed to be?
In time, Detroiters will see if Gilbert lives up to his grandstanding promises of revitalizing the city. All that can be proved at the moment is that Detroit indeed highly regards its billionaires, placing uncritical faith in their enormous wealth, their ideas, their vision. It's a common feature of the city's history, putting all of its eggs in the baskets of its elite. They have been continually granted enormous power to guide the city.
And so it's fascinating that the most visible among them made his fortune in an industry that caused the nation in general — and Detroit, in particular — so much grief. Gilbert's efforts put him in a better position than ever to appear as the city's savior.
Given a positive public profile heightened by the media, an uncritical public, and eager-to-please officials, there hasn't been a conversation over these mounting ironies: Was Quicken a major part of the problem Gilbert now, at least in Detroit, is seen as riding to the rescue to solve? Is that a conversation we even want to have?
Updated 9:12 a.m., Nov. 12: We added a line clarifying the 2008 Crain's Detroit Business article.