Developer Profile: Stephen Ross and Related Companies
The District Detroit project has positioned the inclusion of Stephen Ross’ Related Companies as a counter to the bad reputation of the Ilitches and Olympia. Repeatedly Ross and Related have been cast as a good influence. It has been implied and overtly stated that somehow their inclusion will inspire better outcomes or a more accountable Olympia. While Ross is a Detroit native, he recently moved into the Related developed Hudson Yards after selling his Manhattan penthouse $35 million below the $75 million he listed it for in 2019.
Stephen Ross is the chairman and majority owner of The Related Companies, a global real estate development firm he founded in 1972. According to Forbes magazine, Ross had a net worth of $7.6 billion in 2020. Ross is also the principal owner of the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium. A major benefactor of the University of Michigan, Ross’ lifetime contributions total $478 million. In 2020, Ross announced a $100 million donation for the construction of The District Detroit adjacent University of Michigan Center for Innovation. On March 6, 2023, Crain’s Detroit Business reported; “Stephen Ross’ New York City-based Related Cos. is no longer developing the property, and the university is now taking the lead on designing and building it.”
The first references to Related Co’s bad track record came from Good Jobs First’s Violation Tracker. Violation Tracker is a national database on corporate misconduct that documents Related Cos seven (7) wage and hour violations, non-employment discriminatory practices, and workplace safety or health violations between 2013 and 2018. In 2020, Ross and Related were also featured in “Make Them Pay” a report on corporate landlords in the wake of COVID-19 by Action Center on Race & the Economy.
Further research finds many of the concerns raised by Detroit City Council in the March 16, 2023 Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting are well founded and should not be as easily shrugged off by the developers or the planning and economic development department. Concerns about affordability, segregation of low-income residents, A.D.A. accessibility, and union/labor issues are a part of Related Co’s recent past and present. Most pertinent to our debate in Detroit are the ongoing struggles between Related and the Connecticut town of Groton and between Related and trade unions over the Hudson Yards project.
In October of 2022, Groton, Connecticut’s town council unanimously voted to hold Related Co., who own federally subsidized housing development Branford Manor, in default of a tax incentive agreement. A class action lawsuit claiming “Residents, most of whom are families with children, have been displaced, have physical illnesses and injuries, and are distressed from living in unsafe and unlivable conditions” was filed last year.
In 2017, union workers waged war against Stephen Ross and his Hudson Yards mega-project. At weekly rallies, workers protested the use of non-union labor. Union members formed picket lines, staged sit-ins, and marched through Times Square. The fight raged until, in 2019, Stephen Ross and Related broke the unified labor movement by working around the local ironworker’s union. “The developer brokered a deal with the parent union in Washington, D.C., which then fired the local union’s leadership and took over operations.” Rank-and-file members were livid. “Anyone feel like a pawn?” wrote Frank Artim, a member of the elevator union.
Another lawsuit in July of 2021 alleged the massive 11th Avenue Hudson Yards development had a “poor door” and that low-income tenants were relegated to a separate section without access to certain luxury facilities. A 2014 lawsuit charged Related Co. and project architects with “failing to design and construct covered multi-family dwellings and associated places of public accommodation, so as to be accessible to persons with disabilities.” While some of these past suits were dismissed and the union fight was broken this history along with multiple active complaints should be considered by decision makers.
A recent positioning of Ross as a counter to Ilitches failures was included in the Detroit Free Press’ Detroiters have little choice in Ilitch project ― and it feels like déjà vu, March 17, 2023. While incorrectly asserting our hands are tied in acceptance of the deal, they also invoke Ross and Related as guardrails and guarantees again. “Some things are different this time,” the Editorial Board writes; “Ross is a Detroit native, and his Related Cos. is the nation’s largest private developer, with a history of bringing big projects to fruition…”
Based on the litany of lawsuits and violations uncovered, the size of the developer, being one of the largest in the nation and their ability to force projects to fruit in no way aligns with calls for racial equity or the real benefits that can and should accompany a public funded project of this magnitude. Could it be that the size and power to ‘get it done’ of Ross and Related are a call for greater caution rather than celebration or a reduction in concern?
Putting the emphasis on the completion of the project and glossing over the benefits as passively “positive” provides cover for the developers. This strategy also quells further legitimate inquiry by other media and by elected officials looking to justify pro-development positions in the face of widespread community opposition.
Most upsetting is how this lack of inquiry serves to deescalate the righteous outrage that otherwise could give rise to an economic development model that puts people first. Is it possible that “the writing is on the wall” and that it is a “done deal” because some local press and media outlets help to write it or sign off on it rather than properly press and challenge the status quo? It’s vital that decision makers, and the media, do their due diligence on Ross and Related and look more deeply into their history and track record.
 HARRIS, LATASHA Et Al v. THE RELATED COMPANIES, INC. Et Al https://civilinquiry.jud.ct.gov/CaseDetail/PublicCaseDetail.aspx?DocketNo=UWYCV226068623S