One of Detroit’s first tests of whether it can find new use for the blocks of land it cleared of blight took a big step forward Wednesday.
A development team was selected for an estimated $4 million plan to redo 115 vacant homes over two years, create a two-acre park and landscape 192 vacant lots in the Fitzgerald neighborhood on the northwest side. The development, near Livernois and McNichols, will take place in an area where the Detroit Land Bank had taken control of most of the properties, knocked down some abandoned homes and pitched the entire area as one single development opportunity.
“We are going to create a quarter square mile of Detroit that is blight free,” said Maurice Cox, head of the city’s Planning and Development Department, during a news conference Wednesday, on a vacant lot on Prairie Street among a number of boarded up homes and empty parcels.
“As simple as it is appears, I think its revolutionary in Detroit,” Cox said.
Under the plan, that lot is slated to become the Ella Fitzgerald city park. And a quarter mile greenway path will be built to link the area to nearby Marygrove College.
The project, called Fitz Forward, will be overseen by a partnership of two city-based firms, Century Partners and The Platform, Mayor Mike Duggan announced Wednesday.
Duggan described the plan as a case of the opposite of gentrification. “We are going to keep the families here while improving the neighborhoods,” the mayor said.
If the model works, he added, the city will try to use the same plan in other areas.
The partnership will take the lead in overhauling 373 parcels of vacant land and houses and will work with others for the landscaping.
The Platform, led by longtime local developers Peter Cummings and Dietrich Knoer, have a number of projects that include investing an estimated $100 million to revive the Fisher and Albert Kahn buildings, in the city’s New Center area.
Century Partners also is no stranger to developing projects in the city. The company is run by David Alade and Andrew Colom, who began their development efforts three years ago focusing on Atkinson Street, near the Boston Edison neighborhood.
Also involved in the project is Mitch McEwen, a University of Michigan assistant professor of architecture. McEwen was among the architects chosen to represent Detroit at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale.
The project also includes the Building Community Value and Green Collar Foods. Building Community Value will manage the vacant parcels and select tenants for some of the lots, ranging from urban farmers to pop-up business. Green Collar Foods will set up space for “vertical farming,” which is the practice of producing food in stacked layers in environmentally-controlled indoor spaces.
Joyce Banks, a 30-year resident of Prairie Street, said she likes what she heard Wednesday.
Prairie was once full of homes owned by the people with families, she said. Then it became more transient with renter-occupied homes. “People did not know each other. It was no longer a close-knit neighborhood,” she said. Then it became empty and blighted.
“Perhaps now we can return to that sense of family that used to be on Prairie Street."
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