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WSU Office of Economic Development

656 W. Kirby
Detroit, Michigan 48202

Ned Staebler

By MJ Galbraith
May 23, 2014

The ivory tower and the gritty city street. "On" campus and "off" campus. College kids and townies. The academic world and the real world. So much comes to mind when thinking of universities and their host towns and cities. They're often perceived as being at odds, two different societies forced to tolerate one another.
It doesn't have to be that way, of course. As Vice President of Economic Development at Wayne State University, Ned Staebler has proven that it's better for a university to engage its surrounding community, not neglect it. Occupancy rates are so high that it's increasingly difficult to find an apartment in Midtown, the neighborhood inhabited by Wayne State. New businesses are always opening and a number of new construction projects are on the way. Midtown is abuzz with development and Wayne State—and Ned Staebler—has a lot to do with that.
“I haven't seen it this vibrant in decades,” says Staebler. “Lots of things are happening and more will be happening. The high occupancy rates are good for the neighborhood and that has a halo effect into the surrounding neighborhoods. Woodbridge, New Center, the North End—they're all benefiting from the growth and safety as well.”
Staebler grew up on the city's northwest side, attending Detroit Public Schools before going to University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy for grades seven through twelve. Harvard University came next and then on to his career, spending five years in Chicago and another five in London, where he worked for a rapidly-growing tech finance startup.
The U of D Jesuit slogan, Men for Others, stuck with him, he says. It's what led him to abandon a career in the private sector for one in the public. He returned to Michigan to work for the state, where he managed the 21st Century Jobs Fund for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. And though he enjoyed his work, Staebler wanted to transition to being a practitioner, as he puts it. Being able to return to the city where he was born and help lead an economic and development-based turnaround proved to be just the right role for him.
“The most salient issue for Michigan is having a healthy Detroit,” says Staebler. “If you care about Michigan, there is nothing more important than Detroit.”
For Staebler, increasing population and business density is the ticket to improved economic prosperity in the city. His goal is to increase population density in Midtown from around 13 people per acre to 20 or 25 people per acre. To do so, the neighborhood, already the city's densest, would need another 5,000 to 10,000 people to move in, he says.
One of his biggest projects to date, the planned apartment, hotel, retail, and conference center development at Cass and Canfield, will help chip away at that population goal, introducing nearly 250 apartments to the neighborhood. As Midtown further develops, Staebler sees the intersection of Cass and Canfield as the epicenter, a walkable environment with an attractive street wall, drawing in more people and more businesses.
He's encouraged by the theory that more people bring more businesses which bring more people and so on. The Live Midtown incentive helps, too, offering subsidies and grants to employees looking to rent or buy in select neighborhoods in the city. He helped bring Zipcar to Detroit, introducing new transit options to a city short on public transportation services. A bike-sharing program is near. Staebler's Front Door program has made it easier for small businesses to do business with the University. It's a symbiotic relationship, one in which the neighborhood benefits from Wayne State's investment and the University benefits from the area's resurgence.
“We live here and we work here,” says Staebler. “It's been our neighborhood since 1868. There are 8,000 to 10,000 university people living in this neighborhood and we want it to be a thriving neighborhood. We want to make sure students, faculty, and staff view the area as a desirable place to come to school, to come to work, to live. We're here. This is where we live.”
All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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