M-1 RAIL is really getting started

When I started on the M-1 RAIL Streetcar project 18 months ago, some people thought I was spinning my wheels because they didn’t believe the project would ever happen. Well, I thought differently because I knew the people who were behind the project.

I had the pleasure of working with Roger Penske on Super Bowl XL and the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. He taught me how to be a leader, which included the responsibility of ensuring that the city would be a better place for everyone to live. When Roger puts his name and support behind a project, he remains true to his promise and makes sure that it happens.

There were also two other key members of the M-1 RAIL team whom I previously worked with during my Super Bowl and Mayor Bing days. They are our CEO Matt Cullen and our COO Paul Childs.  I have great respect for their collective bodies of work in our city, and it was therefore a no-brainer for me for me to come aboard. When I sat down with Paul, he explained the project and expressed how he wanted me to be a part of the team. I shared my ideas for community and business engagement and the importance of inclusion on all levels. I left the conversation feeling confident that I would have the necessary support to make a difference in the lives of Detroiters, and the team has been nothing but supportive.

From day one, the M-1 RAIL approach has been focused on connecting with the community and being inclusive. Traditionally, large infrastructure projects use bidding processes that favor large companies and limit inclusion.  We went in another direction.

Our operations team was intentional with breaking down the construction requests for proposals into smaller packages so that the opportunities were more attainable for small, minority, women-owned and Detroit-based companies.  The contracts awarded to some of these businesses have allowed them to hire more employees, keep their doors open for business or gain additional qualifications for the next development projects in our city.

Another critical goal of the M-1 RAIL project is to strengthen the tax base, which is important for a strong city. Our project goal is to make sure we are not only catalytic in transportation, but also catalytic for how development is done in our city. Detroit has been labeled as the “Comeback City,” “Cool” or the “New Detroit.” I love how all eyes are upon us; I also enjoy the influx of new businesses and creative people. But I like to remind people that Detroit has always been an amazing city with ingenious entrepreneurs, who decided to maintain their businesses in Detroit while others relocated to other cities or states. Many of these businesses have higher property/income taxes, insurance costs and/or leases, but they stayed in the trenches long before the city was labeled “cool” or “new.”

Our mantra at M-1 RAIL has been focused on delivering the benefits of this project – including more foot traffic and more customers – for existing businesses, as well as attracting new businesses and investment to Detroit.

Summer Interns

Summer Interns

There is a misperception that some of our Detroit businesses are not ready for “big” projects. However, when I meet people like Tiffany Hart with Hart & Associates, an African American woman-owned business headquartered in southwest Detroit, I say differently… they are ready. Tiffany attended M-1 RAIL contractor meetings, she responded professionally to requests for bids and was fully prepared to execute her services. Because of her hard work and follow up, she was selected by the construction manager to be a part of the project and is able to put Detroiters back to work and ultimately expand her business.

M-1 RAIL is a not-for- profit entity. The organization was created solely to build and operate the 3.3- mile streetcar. The project is primarily funded by the philanthropic community, corporate donors and government partners. All revenues from the fare box and advertising are reinvested into the system’s operations. The private-public-philanthropic funding model for his project is unprecedented, but other cities are currently reviewing our model for future transportation developments in the US.

The M-1 RAIL streetcar car project is bigger than 3.3 miles of Detroit, it is impacting the entire 139 square miles of the city, our region and it is setting an example for the nation. Our streetcar line will be built by an inclusive team because the streetcar is for everyone. This project is for the young professional who lives on Washington Blvd and can ride the streetcar to the Amtrak stop and go to work in Ann Arbor. This project is for the senior or “seasoned saint”, as I like to say, who lives in Midtown, but wants to try yoga in Campus Martius. This project is for our high school intern who attends Osborn, and can now add M-1 RAIL to his resume for future opportunities. This project truly is for the people, all of the people and it’s being built by the people. So get ready Detroit, the M-1 RAIL is coming and it is for EVERYONE!

For construction updates and more information about M-1 RAIL please visit www.M-1RAIL.com.

Sommer Woods
Sommer Woods is the director of external relations for M-1 Rail, a 3.3-mile modern streetcar system that will strengthen the backbone of the Detroit region by downtown Detroit to Midtown to New Center/North End. Sommer was formerly a member of former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s administration, serving as the film, culture and special events director for the city of Detroit. In this role, she managed the city’s film-related efforts and coordinated all aspects of special events for the City of Detroit. Sommer also serves as Detroit City Council’s Appointee to the Belle Isle Advisory Council. She is a board member of Tour de Troit, a proud Midnight Golf Program mentor and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated. Follow her @SommerWoods1.