Detroit leaders to visit city

Efforts to enhance the architectural design quality in Detroit will bring a group of that city’s leaders to Columbus next month.

The Detroit-based Hudson-Webber Foundation is sponsoring a visit to Columbus by leaders of the Detroit Architecture Pilot, an exploratory group of community and civic leaders in Detroit who are researching ways to enhance the city’s “built” environment, said Abir Ali, a developer of the pilot program.

The program is based, in part, on the Cummins Foundation’s Architecture Program, which began in the 1950s, said Cindy Frey, Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce president.

If successful, the Detroit Architecture Pilot will sponsor design-forward development projects by pairing up-and-coming architects with projects that have the potential for architectural excellence.

Ali first envisioned the architecture pilot three years ago, when she visited Columbus as a program fellow for the foundation. As she toured Columbus, Ali said she enjoyed learning how the architecture program works and how Cummins industrialist J. Irwin Miller had successfully brought the concept of architectural excellence to life in the city.

“It was really interesting to see that model was taken out of concept and executed into reality,” she said. “It’s the legacy of your city. It’s in the DNA of what you have.”

There are some similarities between Detroit and Columbus, Ali said, namely each city’s ties to the automotive industry. But beyond that, both cities also focus on talent attraction and retention, a facet of Columbus that drove Miller’s dedication to creating an excellent built environment, she said.

To reconnect the Detroit Architecture Pilot with its inspiration, a group of six Detroit leaders who serve as advisers to the program will visit Columbus on June 16 and 17 to explore the city’s most famous buildings and hear from community leaders how the city’s architectural heritage affects everyday life in Columbus.

The advisers — including an associate dean at the University of Michigan and the City of Detroit planning and development director — will take a downtown walking tour of Columbus led by Sherry Stark on June 16, Frey said. The Detroit delegation will also tour the Miller House and Gardens and meet with city leaders on the first day of their visit to Columbus.

“They’ll get a really interesting perspective on the city,” Frey said.

Then on June 17, the Detroit delegation will meet with leaders of Heritage Fund _ The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, the Columbus Area Visitors Center and Landmark Columbus to learn about the influence architecture has on life in Columbus, Frey said.

Tracy Souza, Heritage Fund president and CEO, will speak about the work of the Architectural Program, Karen Niverson, executive director of the Visitors Center, will give a presentation on how architecture drives tourism in the city and Richard McCoy, Landmark Columbus director, will address architectural preservation efforts.

As the group travels through Columbus, Ali said she hopes they will be able to absorb information on how architecture has impacted Columbus’ history, present and future.

“We want to hear about the experience of executing this and keeping it alive in Columbus,” she said.

And if the Detroit Architecture Pilot is successful in the future, Ali said she hopes to one day build an exchange between Detroit and Columbus so that designers from both cities can visit each other and learn from the successes and failures of architectural design in each city.

The architecture pilot is still in the exploratory phase, so the exact parameters of the program’s reach have not been defined yet, Ali said. But, through the visit to Columbus, Ali said she hopes to get a better sense of how the basic concept of the Columbus Architecture Program could be translated into a program that will work for a larger city.

About the visit

The panel of advisers to the Detroit Architecture Pilot will meet with Columbus community leaders and take a downtown walking tour of the city led by Sherry Stark on Thursday, June 16.

Then on June 17, the advisors will hear presentations on the history of the Columbus Architecture Program, its impact on local tourism and efforts to preserve the city’s architecture from three local leaders:

  • Tracy Souza, president and CEO of Heritage Fund – The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County
  • Karen Niverson, executive director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center
  • Richard McCoy, director of Landmark Columbus

About the program

The Detroit Architecture Pilot is a new, exploratory program designed to eventually pair visionary architects with design-forward development projects in Detroit. It’s based, in part, on the work of The Cummins Foundation Architecture Program in Columbus.

A group of five architecture and community development leaders will advise the Detroit Architecture Pilot. The advisers include:

  • Toby Barlow, chief creative officer at Team Detroit and global creative director at Ford
  • Maurice Cox, director of planning and development for the City of Detroit
  • Milton Curry, associate dean and associate professor at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
  • Larry Marrantette, owner of Taktix Solutions
  • Sarida Scott, executive director of Community Development Advocates
  • Tonja Stapleton, development consultant at Crossroads Detroit

The program was developed by Abir Ali, the program manager for NEIdeas: Rewarding Ideas for Business Growth and partner and creative director for Ali Sandifer, and Keegan Mahoney, program director for the Hudson-Webber Foundation.

Author photo
Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at or 812-379-5712.