Detroit Experience Factory adds tours to show off city

May 12, 2017 - The Detroit News

Detroit Experience Factory adds tours to show off city

By Candice Williams

A lot has changed in Detroit since the Detroit Experience Factory began giving tours of the city 11 years ago.

In 2006, the recession had not yet hit, Kwame Kilpatrick was mayor and Quicken Loans Inc. founder Dan Gilbert had not yet relocated the business to the city or bought and overhauled dozens of buildings, contributing to the resurgence downtown.

Throughout the changes, Detroit Experience Factory, initially called Inside Detroit, has provided context through storytelling for more than 85,000 visitors interested in learning about the city’s history, architecture and culture.

This summer, the nonprofit is expanding its offerings to include 16 new public tours, bringing the total to 28. The tours, most of which are free, are available almost every day of the week.

“We really showcase the stuff you can’t Google,” said Jeanette Pierce, executive director of Detroit Experience Factory, an affiliate of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. “It’s the relationships and the personal experience that really make our tours unique.”

Among the new offerings this year are a free QLine tour and walking tours of neighborhoods such as Grandmont-Rosedale, Lafayette Park and Mexicantown.

“By expanding our public tour offerings and constantly creating new private tours focused on all sorts of themes, we hope to continue to show both locals and visitors that there is something for everyone in Detroit,” Pierce said.

Pierce said she expects the QLine tour, which will start in June, to be popular. The streetcar line on Woodward launched for the public on Friday.

“The story we want to tell is of the businesses along the QLine route people haven’t noticed before because they’ve been driving,” she said. “The tours provide history and context. How did what happened in the past bring us to where we are today? Where are we headed in the future?”

The nonprofit will celebrate its expanded schedule at 6 p.m. Saturday with a Summer Kickoff Bar Tour starting at Checker Bar, 124 Cadillac Square.

The tours are not just for visitors, said Pierce, a resident of the city’s east side. The tour guides live in the city and eagerly share their experiences and insights with both tourists and other locals, Pierce said.

“We believe locals knowing more about their community has a great impact on our city,” she said.

Detroiter Christianna Sims said she always learns something new during the tours. The most recent one she took was the Livernois Avenue of Fashion tour, which she said gave her an opportunity to meet store owners.

“It allowed me to have a new experience,” said Sims, a program manager for BUILD Institute, an entrepreneur development organization in Detroit. “I never had a reason to go into those stores. I didn’t have to buy anything just yet. I could go in there and check it out and get to know the owners by name. It was a great thing.”

One recent Friday, Janet Prange brought her art students from L’Anse Creuse High School in Harrison Township to downtown Detroit for an art and architecture tour. The Commerce Township resident and her husband had previously been on the tour, which includes insights into downtown locations, including the Guardian Building, Compuware Building and Campus Martius.

“The biggest thing I got out of it is watching the kids enjoy it,” Prange said. “As a teacher, I am trying to get them excited about things, get them interested in learning something new… get them out of their comfort zone. For many of them, going to Detroit is out of their comfort zone.”

As a local resident, Prange said the tours have helped her develop an appreciation for Detroit.

“I think everybody hears about the bad things about the city, the mismanagement, the corruption that has happened in the past,” she said. “(The tours) kind of renew a sense of pride you have for the city. We don’t need to be the biggest and the best. We have some things to be proud of and a history to be proud of.”

For a complete list of tours and times, visit