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Detroit — It was five years ago today that the billionaire Dan Gilbert and the first wave of Quicken Loans Inc. workers moved downtown from Livonia. Since then nothing’s been the same.

 

"There's going to be a lot more that is coming here in the coming year," Gilbert told his employees of the online mortgage firm Aug. 17, 2010, in the elegant lobby of the Compuware building at Campus Martius.

Five years ago, Gilbert didn’t own an inch of downtown property. Now, the total square footage of all the property he owns, or entities linked to him, is larger than the main campus of Wayne State University. Now he’s talking about building new, including making an iconic statement in the former Hudson’s site — plans are expected to be revealed by the end of this year.

 

His buying binge may be unprecedented for a major American city, some contend.

“I don’t know of any other major downtown where one private individual controls so much property; let alone collect that property within five years,” said Robin Boyle, a Wayne State professor of urban planning. “He is rare. What he is doing is transformative.”

A total of 78 properties, amounting to 12.5 million square feet of real estate, are controlled by Gilbert or entities linked to the Detroit native. He possesses prized skyscrapers, a major chunk of Woodward Avenue, the Greektown Casino & Hotel, 17,000 parking spaces, and prominent empty spaces like the former Hudson’s site.

 

“Downtown now; I can’t believe it,” said George David, 48, of Southfield, as he sat in the Roasting Plant cafe Monday morning. The cafe is among the dozens of small retailers Gilbert has wooed downtown. It’s in a restored historic skyscraper, the First National Building, owned by Gilbert. Outside the cafe is the construction of M-1 Rail, the streetcar Gilbert helped finance.

“It’s amazing how many people are down here now,” David said as he looked at the crowded sidewalks and people gathering at Campus Martius park across the street. “All the new stuff, I actually thought I’d never see it come back like this.”