Snowbirds Come Home to Roost
RON AND PATTY COOLEY met and fell in love 42 years ago as students at Eastern Michigan University. After a stint at Ford in the early ’70s, they left Detroit behind, taking over her family’s modest real estate business upstate. The company prospered: for 30 years the two worked together, helping to finance, build and sell more than 1,000 homes.
With their two sons grown, Ron and Patty sold the business and semi-retired down to Naples, Fla. Ron took up golf, sometimes seven days a week, occasionally 36 holes in a day. Patty gardened. Their lives in the Sunshine State were relaxed and tranquil, the sort of serene ending that retirement brochures promise to us all. But, unsurprisingly, the collapse of the housing market had a serious impact on a couple with a nest egg tied up in real estate.
Ron and Patty looked around and did the math. Florida’s economy seemed to be declining even more steeply than the Motor City’s. In Detroit, they had roots, their sons had moved into the city and started a barbecue restaurant, grandchildren had arrived. So, weighing their options, they came back. They moved into a downtown loft, just a few blocks from the empty lot where Tiger Stadium once stood.
I first encountered Ron and Patty at an early morning fund-raiser for a neighborhood charity. Talking to them, I found that just like other new arrivals — the artists and recent college graduates coming here from other towns — they spoke of Detroit’s potential with an almost exalted optimism. Instead of depressing or slowing them down, the move has been a thrilling one and they shared examples of how exhilarating their life is downtown.
Being at the center of things means they can walk to the Avalon bakery on Saturday mornings and to the new Comerica Park for baseball games in the spring. Instead of endless golf, they now go to events like the fund-raiser where we met or lectures on design and sustainable development.
Talking about Florida, Ron sounds like someone who made it onto the lifeboat in the nick of time. Yes, they had to sell their home down there at a loss, but a former neighbor in Naples recently sold a similar house for less than half of what the Cooleys got. Ron estimates that with the nation’s battered 401(k) accounts, it could take decades before Florida returns to any sort of substantial growth.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/opinion/21barlow.html