Fitzgerald neighborhood groundbreaking is lifting development interest in Detroit

Fitzgerald neighborhood groundbreaking is lifting development interest in Detroit
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In the heart of Detroit’s west side, Prairie Street cuts an unassuming route between Puritan Avenue and McNichols Road. Dozens of vacant lots owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority are flanked by 1920’s homes, some well-maintained and some dilapidated.

Jevona Watson, Dr. Antoine Garibaldi, and Gary Lichtman and Gary Erwin from University of Detroit Mercy inspect a pair of vintage school songs from nearby University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College. Photo N. Zorach
On the block between Grove and Florence, a bright, white tent is set up on this warm fall day, Oct. 17, as Mayor Mike Duggan and a congregation of city officials, community leaders, and residents attend the groundbreaking of the neighborhood’s new Ella Fitzgerald Park and HomeBase Community Center. Part of an ongoing, overall effort to revitalize the Livernois Avenue-Six Mile Road (McNichols) corridor, the event represents an unfolding vision for residents and stakeholders in the area.
The Fitzgerald Revitalization Program, which complements the Live6 philanthropic and civic investment initiative, will see 115 homes redeveloped by Detroit-based real estate firm Century Partners and add a greenway to connect Grove Street from Livernois to Woodingham, it was announced. Ella Fitzgerald Park will occupy more than two acres of currently vacant lots between San Juan Drive on the west and Monica Street on the east.
“Fitzgerald is the heart of what we have to do to turn around this city,” Duggan told media and supporters from the neighborhood. “This was the question: Could you take a neighborhood like this and, if everybody came together, prove that it had a future?”
Mayor Mike Duggan speaks with community members prior to the event. Photo by N. Zorach

Flanked by Fitzgerald resident and Prairie Street Block Club president Darnetta Banks and Dr. Antoine Garibaldi, president of the University of Detroit Mercy, Duggan cited the need to bring visual change to the neighborhood of 600 residents.

Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, which has helped fund Live6, reiterated his commitment to the neighborhood: The foundation will invest over $20 million in the neighborhood and the commercial corridors in the coming years, following a $2.2 million Live6 investment since 2015.

“Defined by the McNichols and Livernois corridors, we are bearing witness to extraordinary developments of real power and potential,” Rapson said.

HomeBase, which will house the Live6 Alliance, Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC) and provide additional space for various city of Detroit staff and community groups. The headquarters is a short walk up McNichols Road from the site of the park’s groundbreaking.

City Planning Director Maurice Cox spoke about the importance of a center for the community, especially the design program, which supports non-profits in architecture.

“One of the things Mayor Duggan was most excited about was the idea of bringing design outside of city hall and into the communities,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without a resident base that was dedicated and invested in the process of development, and we are working to involve them every step of the way.”

“You are literally sitting in the middle of my dream.” – Jevona Watson, Owner, Detroit Sip

Challenge Detroit Fellow Julia Kowalski, an architectural designer with DCDC, says she looks forward to the completion of the HomeBase, which will expand the organization’s offices from their base at Detroit Mercy.

“Our goal was to have it be warm, accessible and, above all else, honest,” she said. “That meant a lot, as far as keeping some of the existing materials, like the old tin ceiling tiles, but also creating a space that was going to be welcoming to neighborhood residents.”

Detroit Sip owner Jevona Watson is among the trailblazers that are creating new energy and interest in neighborhood businesses. Her shop became an immediate magnet for community gatherings and is a neighborhood hub . Photo Michelle & Chris Gerard

The groundbreaking ceremony was followed by a community lunch next to Home Base at Detroit Sip, which TheHUB featured in its coverage of District 2 development as part of the #LiveLoveDetroit series exploring neighborhood projects across the city. Owner Jevona Watson welcomed the crew to her space, which she hopes can also serve as a hub of community activity in an otherwise largely vacant commercial corridor.

“You are literally sitting in the middle of my dream,” she said.

Previous conversations about the Fitzgerald program suggested the need for more forums to build community equity and help mitigate the threat of neighborhood displacement, due to rising real estate values that would negatively affect renters.

Lauren Hood, co-director of Live6, acknowledges challenges that might lead to long-time renters being priced out.

Historically, neighborhood residents have not always had an ombudsman, let alone a seat at the table with stakeholders, developers and investors.

Accessible and involved, Hood is working with the drivers behind area development to advance the community’s agenda and interest, particularly in regard to maintaining affordable housing and providing longtime community residents the ability to access economic opportunities.

“I’m hoping that, once this space opens up, we can get at what the real issues are,” she said. “We want to ensure that people are able to stay. But they need more than that.”

“We get the most positive feedback from people who are continually engaged,” Hood added. “The more we can get them involved, the more we can get done.”

“Defined by the McNichols and Livernois corridors, we are bearing witness to extraordinary developments of real power and potential.” –Rip Rapson, President & CEO, Kresge Foundation

Cox reiterated the city’s interest in supporting engagement.

“We’ve been really focused on getting the strategy right, and this means including residents every step of the way,” he said. “A lot of it has been about the mix of housing, making sure we can get a good cross-section of the folks who want to live here, making sure we have enough rentals, enough homes for sale, and enough homes that can be leased to purchase. But it’s also about getting them to interact with the whole ecosystem that is the neighborhood, whether that’s the housing or the new greenways or parks.”

The bottom line is a better one for Fitzgerald residents today. And the hope is, that the new investments will spread from block-to-block throughout the city.

“The revival of a city may begin downtown, or in a central corridor, but revival just has to become concrete across neighborhoods like this one,” says Kresge’s Rapson. “We’re learning how to make that possible with new collaborative efforts that pool ideas and resources – not the least of which are the ideas of neighbors who’ve often invested years of their lives and put down roots here.”

Kresge Foundation President & CEO Rip Rapson describes the activity in the McNichols and Livernois corridor and Fitzgerald Revitalization Program, as ranking high among Detroit’s extraordinary new developments with “real power and potential.” Photo courtesy of the Kresge Foundation

“These activities that we’re calling attention to here are all important in themselves,” adds Rapson, “but the real message is their mutually reinforcing nature. Time and again we’re finding that this way of working can give us the traction we need to move forward.”

About HomeBase Community Center

HomeBase, a new community center on McNichols Avenue  and home to Home to the Live6 Alliance – the community steward organization – as well as the Detroit Collaborative Design Center and shared space for various city of Detroit staff and community groups,  will serve as a visible sign of the turnaround of the business corridor and surrounding community, according to Lauren Hood, Live6 Alliance co-director.

“You can’t underestimate what the establishment of HomeBase will do to accelerate the collaboration between the various organizations who are working toward revitalizing this area,” says Hood.  “And a well-trafficked office can only help spur more development in the immediate vicinity. This means there’ll be one less abandoned building on this street. We’ll be a good neighbor to the about-to-open coffee shop next door, the restaurant in the works across the street and the other active buildings in the vicinity. Activity attracts more activity for everyone.”

“The establishment of HomeBase also creates a single place where residents can go with questions – whether they’re trying to get an affordable mortgage or trying to open a business, the resources to help can be found, at last, in a single space,” says Hood. “And it will be open for block club meetings and a wide variety of other community events.”

See more of TheHUB’s coverage of the Livernois – McNichols area:

Detroit’s Fitzgerald neighborhoods land $20 million, multi-year investment

Change Agents: Live6 area residents and stakeholders collaborate to improve safety and well-being

A Sip of Success: Café aims to bring residents, students and businesses under one roof

Detroit’s Fitzgerald neighborhood moving forward with bold new development plan

 Group On! Grassroots effort galvanizes Detroit’s Live6 neighborhood

See more of TheHUB’s #LiveLoveDetroit coverage on District 2:

More reasons to #LiveLoveDetroit

Presenting “The Map” for Detroit Council District 2: Your guide to where and what investment is happening, and who is driving growth in Detroit’s neighborhoods

Making Magic: Former Fairgrounds is site of $1 billion vision

Citizens organize around former Fairgrounds’ future

Stop the presses: Fitzgerald project publicity must wait on results

Breaking Barriers: University strives to meld campus with community

Matchmaker: Motor City Match builds dreams in District 2 and citywide

Celebrating a Century: Sherwood Forest turns 100

Partners for Progress: Teamwork guides multi-million-dollar neighborhood fund

Lead image: Vacant storefronts flank the future Neighborhood Home Base and Detroit Sip coffee shop, which will host its grand opening in mid-November.

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