The wraps came off a years-long effort earlier this month when Henry Ford Health, Michigan State University and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores unveiled a massive $2.5 billion redevelopment plan in Detroit that will include a new $1.8 billion hospital, a medical research facility and commercial and residential space.
Ask Henry Ford President and CEO Robert Riney how the project came about, and he’ll tell you it’s what happens when an organization builds relationships with others that share its values and want to transform a neighborhood.
It’s also a testament to having a C-suite consistent in its vision and committed to playing the long game. Henry Ford didn’t want to be a walled-off medical center within Detroit and knew it needed others that supported its core mission.
The hospital system started amassing land parcels 20 years ago. Henry Ford Sports Medicine was already the Pistons’ healthcare team. In 2019, the hospital system, Gores and his organization worked together on a $137 million facility that brought the Pistons’ training facility and headquarters back to Detroit, two years after the team’s home games moved to Little Caesars Arena. Meanwhile, Michigan State and Henry Ford entered a 30-year partnership in 2021.
“You can’t take on the true health of a community without partners,” Riney said.
And you can’t move forward in a community without engaging with it, he added. Henry Ford learned that lesson six years ago, when it planned to raze a historic church it had acquired to make way for its cancer treatment center. Following community input, it salvaged some of the building’s stone and organ pipes for another use. Riney acknowledged the system can’t please everyone, but said Henry Ford continues to work on devising creative solutions and involving local organizations throughout its process.
His advice for other systems looking to pursue transformations of their own: “You have to get comfortable with complexity,” Riney said. “You have to lean into it instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.”
The health system hopes to break ground on its portion of the project next year. The overall transformation is expected to take a decade to complete. Since making the announcement, Riney said he’s heard from other potential partners that may align with Henry Ford’s values and see the system is committed to more than buildings and spaces.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Henry Ford Health and Michigan State University had been partners for 30 years.