A look at what was missing in Brightmoor helped inspire the vision of what’ s to come.
“The first time I went into the area my impression was, ‘ Wow, this is pretty empty,’” recalls Errol Service, a longtime McDonald’s franchisee and Detroit Regional Chamber board member.
Blight and vacancies have been a long-time challenge of the four-square-mile community in Detroit’ s District 1. Since the 1980s, Brightmoor changed from a bastion for working-class residents to a neighborhood struggling with crime and poverty. Several community-based groups, corporations and nonprofit organizations have worked to clean it up, board up abandoned houses and assist its remaining residents. As an entrepreneur, Service is accustomed to creating opportunities.
After seeing Brightmoor’s lively children and interacting with residents, he was even more inspired to answer the city’ s call to initiate an organic commercial development there.
What resulted was an imprint for the International Community of Brightmoor, a cultural attraction that could also economically boost the area on the city’s northwest side through a unique neighborhood model.
Following two years of planning and collaboration with city officials and the Detroit Land Bank Authority, a formal green light to implement the project is anticipated soon, Service says.
The International Community of Brightmoor plans to invite many of the area’ s African immigrants to be vendors in a marketplace of both imported and home-grown goods, like fabrics and natural oils. Other goals are building a major entertainment complex and creating soccer fields at Eliza Howell Park.
“It will be something like Eastern Market, but a smaller footprint with international products,” says Service.
Through work with the African Caribbean Chamber of Commerce, of which Service is chairman, and building collaborations around the state, he’ s helping to renovate houses purchased from the Land Bank to create new homes for immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and other parts of the world. The original Brightmoor residents were immigrants from Germany and other European countries who came to work in plants such as Ford Motor Company.
Partnering with the Brightmoor Alliance and support from the African Caribbean Chamber and other local African organizations will help bring a diverse energy to the effort, along with a spirit of unity similar to that of the annual African Family Picnic at Eliza Howell, Service says. The picnic attracts participants and visitors from throughout the community and from as far away as Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Service also plans to develop housing for McDonald’ s employees who want homes of their own. He expects purchase prices to range from $27,000 to $30,000. “So many people complain about how rough it is in Brightmoor. Compared to where I’ m from in Jamaica, Brightmoor is golden,” he says.
Peter Cummings through the Fisher Foundation also will provide five buildings to house small businesses in Brightmoor. Service praises the Land Bank for making property so accessible and available to Brightmoor residents. He also commends the Detroit administration for courting participation from him and his colleagues. “I am so proud of the city leadership, the mayor’ s office and the city council for asking a group of business people to come together and make this contribution,” he says. “(As) business people, we have a lot to offer.”
While he’ s glad to lend his corporate experience and business sense to Brightmoor, Service is sensitive to the role he and team members must play in driving the development to keep the community’ s needs at the forefront.
“Everything we’ re doing is keeping Brightmoor residents in the mix,” he says.
Photos by Paul Engstrom