Detroit could be a techno hub year-round. Here’s what city government is doing about it 

Beyond Movement

Page 3 of 3

click to enlarge Detroit techno label Interdimensional Transmissions throws its famed 'No Way Back' party at Tangent Gallery during Movement Electronic Music Festival in 2016. - AMY HUBBARTH
  • Amy Hubbarth
  • Detroit techno label Interdimensional Transmissions throws its famed 'No Way Back' party at Tangent Gallery during Movement Electronic Music Festival in 2016.
The plug

In the city’s Media Services Department, deputy director Linda Vinyard has expanded her duties to make it possible for the city to attract more events. She’s now head of Detroit's Office of Special Events and Film, where she serves as the point-person for anyone hoping to host an event. Promoters can dial Vinyard directly, and she’ll walk them through the various permits and approvals they’ll need for their party to go smoothly.

This year, with Tonon serving as the go-between for the city and its nightlife community, Vinyard says there’s been an uptick in the number of creatives soliciting her advice. Recently, it was a guy trying to host an event that involved, as Vinyard describes it, “people sitting around on tires in a lot where there’s an old abandoned garage.”

“I’m trying to figure out why in the world would you even want to be there,” Vinyard laughs as she recounts the story, but she went to work helping him execute his vision nonetheless.

First, Vinyard told the party thrower he’d need to find out who owned the land and get permission to hold events there. (Had the lot been owned by the city, Vinyard says she could have helped him access the property through a lease agreement.) Then, she advised him on how to legally serve alcohol on site.

“I got him in touch with the liquor license division, but I told him the best thing to do is not to sell liquor — if you want to make it into a beer garden, you can serve beer and wine — but the best thing to do would be to sell tickets [instead],” she says.

Once an event is greenlighted, Vinyard logs it, informs Detroit police it has received the proper approvals to take place, and gives them contact information for the person in charge should any issues arise.

For Vinyard, her role in special events is about “making people feel comfortable about expressing their creative energies and helping them complete their vision — not trying to stop them.”

Next steps

Ahead of last week’s Movement festivities, the artists, promoters, and venue owners of Detroit’s North End and New Center neighborhoods invited Duggan back to the area to suggest further steps the city could take to facilitate their endeavors.

The meeting, held this time at Tangent Gallery and coordinated by the Detroit-Berlin Connection, could not have come at a better time. Tens of thousands of tourists were about to flood Detroit in the name of techno, providing an economic boost to its hotels, Airbnbs, bars, clubs, and eateries. (Paxahau says about 75,000 to 100,000 tickets to Movement are sold each year, with half of them purchased by out-of-towners.) Ultimately, event coordinators aimed to convey that, with the right support, Detroit’s creatives could draw a similar level of tourism to the city year-round. More specifically, they envisioned hosting visitors in the North End and New Center, the home of clubs and venues like Tangent Gallery, Marble Bar, Northern Lights, and the Jam Handy, and artists like Moodymann and those of Underground Resistance.


“We want this area to be a designated creative corridor so when international and other people travel to Detroit they know it’s an activated area for nightlife and techno with extended operating hours,” Linder says.

Additional issues raised at the meeting included difficulty with building safety inspections (some venue operators had trouble getting inspectors to show up as scheduled, others, like Lapp and Zahr, were seeing citations pile up with each inspector's visit) and the need for an online checklist to outline the various requirements for holding a one-time event. Attendees also pitched the mayor on providing creatives with vacant buildings they could come to own and reactivate through “sweat equity.” The city owns nearly 100,000 land parcels, Duggan said, though he acknowledged that the Land Bank reserves about 10 percent of them for “development zones” — places deemed fit for big, pricey projects.

The mayor generally appeared receptive to their concerns. He expressed support for a special events one-sheet and said he would work with the Building, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department to ensure that the word of a first inspector is binding.

“We don’t want you to spend emotional energy fighting city government, we want you to put emotional energy into your creative pursuit,” he said to applause.

The meeting was a sign of thawing tensions between the city government and its night-owl creatives. Further evidence came over Memorial Day weekend, when Tonon and Linder say not a single Movement after-party was shutdown. At least a dozen ancillary festival events had properly registered with the city, Tonon said.

Things are also looking up for Lapp, who after his negative experience with the city on the lower east side says he’s looking forward to opening another club elsewhere in Detroit, this time with the right permits in place to ensure longevity.

But in the creative hub that is the area of the North End and New Center, the sanitizing threat of development looms. The QLine is spurring new business activity along Woodward, Henry Ford is planning an expansion, the Pistons are building a practice facility to be closer to Little Caesars Arena, and luxury condos are going up. Linder knows she and her creative cohorts will have to fight if they want to avoid being displaced by the same forces that drove Lapp from Brooklyn a decade ago.

“We want to preserve what we have and grow it without any gentrification,” she says. “We don’t want people coming in, raising the rent, redeveloping into high-fashion condos. We like the feel of the neighborhood. Maybe it's not as polished or shiny as other parts of the city. We like it that way.”

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