Lighting a Community
By Odis Jones, CEO, Public Lighting Authority of Detroit May 19, 2015 04:30 PM
Growing up on the east side of Detroit, my childhood was spent playing football in the street with friends and enjoying a close neighborhood. We knew all of our neighbors very well , could find all of our friends by the bicycles outside their houses, and we always needed to be home before the street lights came on. After attending public schools, (Lillibridge Elementary School, Joy Middle School and Osborn High School), I went on to Central Michigan University for my Bachelor of Science degree and then Western Michigan University for a Master of Public Administration degree.
My career took me away from the city for nearly two decades - I worked in municipal economic development in cities across the United States, and saw first-hand the importance of the right financial partner to any complex project.
When I would return to Detroit to visit family, I was devastated. The once vibrant spirit and character of the city I grew up in was overshadowed by a depressed economy and high crime rate. It was no longer the neighborhood I remembered.
I returned to my hometown for good in 2013 to lead the newly formed Public Lighting Authority (PLA), whose mission was to restore reliable street lighting to the residents of Detroit after years of deterioration. I was happy to be back in Detroit, but the scale of what we needed to fix was daunting. At that point, 40 percent of the street lights in the city did not work, and the ones that did work were running on outdated and unreliable technology. The PLA was charged with devising a revolutionary plan to turn the street lights back on in Detroit. Soon we had devised that plan.
But a plan isn’t worth anything if you don’t have the financing to make it a reality. That was the challenge we faced – finding the right financing partner – and because of the city’s filing for bankruptcy, it wasn’t easy. Working with the State of Michigan, the Michigan Finance Authority, the State Treasurer’s office, and the Governor’s office, we set out on that mission.
While a number of banks wouldn’t give us the time of day, Citi was different. Citi stepped up with financing and was a true partner, extending a 30-year loan at terms that were so favorable that we were able to add 10,000 more lights to our original plan. Ultimately, with Citi’s help, 65,000 cutting-edge LED lights will be installed across the city. These new lights will reduce the energy bill to the city to just $3 million per year. With the continued commitment of my team at PLA, the team at Citi and countless others, the lights are coming back on across Detroit.