Motor City Revival: The ‘spirit of Detroit’ returns after economic downturn

I’m Michigan’s biggest cheerleader.

I lived in the Great Lakes State for 36 years before moving to Arizona on Thanksgiving 2002 to be closer to family. It was heartbreaking, but a necessity.

My past with Detroit is storied. I interned for Olympia Entertainment when it was renovating the bejeweled Fox Theatre. My fellow intern and I found gems within the theater – original Gone with the Wind posters, autographed pictures of Elvis Presley, and black-and-white pictures of the legend in the gold-encrusted lobby. It was a sign of what Detroit was.

When I left, Detroit was bereft of abandoned buildings and dirty streets. A new football stadium, Ford Field, and baseball stadium, Comerica Park, offered a glimmer of hope across the street from the glorious Fox and Fillmore theaters.

I recently returned to my beloved state to see what I had heard through the grapevine, to quote a Motown hit. Detroit was resuscitated and magical. People rushing through the rain to get to restaurants like Dime Store, a brunch spot that, on a slow day, has a two-hour wait, or The Foundation Hotel’s restaurant, The Apparatus Room. Little Caesars Arena (or LCA) brought new hope to the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons.

Hopeful fans gathered outside of Ford Field for the Detroit Lions’ season kickoff, a Monday Night Football game against the New York Jets. The result was abysmal. The night before, the Detroit Tigers celebrated the 50th anniversary of its 1968 World Series win with a ceremony and national anthem by Jose Feliciano. Nearby, folks jogged and walked along the RiverWalk, despite the scattered showers.

Downtown Detroit is beautiful, once again.

When we headed to Ford Field, our taxi driver, an African immigrant, shared his thoughts about the Detroit revival. When he moved to the city, he saw a beat down and broken Detroit. Now he’s dazzled by its magic.

I stayed at The Foundation Hotel, which Time Magazine called one of 2018’s 100 Greatest Places, along with locales like Golden Bridge in Ba Na Hills, Vietnam; Al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez, Morocco; and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, Maldives.

As I approached the Detroit Foundation Hotel, I was greeted by oversized, red wood doors that once welcomed fire apparatus, as it’s a repurposed fire headquarters. The friendly staff, polished concrete floors and lighting by Michiganders Alexander Porbe and Kim Harty created a warmth that welcomed me home. Many of the elements within the Detroit Foundation Hotel are locally sourced, including wallpaper and snacks. The Detroit Foundation Hotel’s staff is so great that when we were shafted by Lyft, a valet driver picked us up at 11 p.m. near Ford Field.

Fodor’s Travel found Detroit attractive enough to include it on its Go List of 52 recommended destinations. My favorite hotspots have grown along with the city.

The Detroit Institute of Arts, which was hosting Star Wars and the Power of Costume while we were there, boasts incredible Diego Rivera murals sharing Detroit’s industrial past.

Nearby is a cultural and musical gem: the Motown Museum, Hitsville, U.S.A. The Motown Museum is filled to the brim with historical artifacts like Michael Jackson’s jeweled glove and the Temptations’ clothing, as well as original posters from Motown revues and platinum albums. Dance on the floor that held the Temptations, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and others. Take the guided tour and sing along with hosts and guests to Motown classics.

I can never get enough reminders of the music that came out of the quaint home, which is seemingly frozen in time. The vending machine still holds candy bars like Baby Ruth, which were Stevie Wonder’s favorite. (The Baby Ruth bars were put in the same slot each time so little Stevie would know where they were.) The gift shop is to die for, so don’t forget to “Shop Around.”

A trip to Detroit isn’t complete without a visit to South Detroit (otherwise known as Windsor, Ontario). Even on the drizzliest days, Detroit’s skyline is a beautiful sight from Dieppe Gardens, just a quick trip across the Ambassador Bridge or Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation isn’t in Detroit either, but it offers a detailed look at the area’s history. See the beloved 1952 Wienermobile and somber reminders of U.S. history like the Rosa Parks bus and various presidents’ cars.

The museum highlights the evolution of technology with a “futuristic” home, a celebration of the ’80s with a bedroom filled with memorabilia like The Cure and Depeche Mode posters. Those who have the travel bug will enjoy the Airstream, and vintage Holiday Inn McDonald’s signs. The Ford Rouge Factory Tour and the facility’s robots are definitely must-sees.

Get a taste of the Great Lakes State at the Michigan Café with goodies like Faygo Pop; the Dearborn Cubano with Dearborn ham; local rainbow trout and Michigan craft beers and draft wines. Midwesterners: You know what I’m saying.

More than 1.7 million visitors annually experience its four venues: Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, Ford Rouge Factory Tour and the Benson Ford Research Center.

Fodor’s says, “Detroit has had several false starts, but it looks like America’s favorite comeback city is finally making a legit comeback.” Indeed.