The Michigan Department of Transportation unveiled its latest plans to resurface I-375, the one-mile stretch of freeway built after a vibrant Black neighborhood there was demolished. Transit proponents, historians and residents were not impressed with the 11-lane boulevard shown in renderings and the lack of public discussions.
There was a lot of news this week involving buildings in Detroit — much of it troubling. The city is suing notorious slumlord Dennis Kefallinos over blighted structures. Residents of an apartment building for veterans complained about incessant flooding. The Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center remains undeveloped eight years after big plans were announced. In better news, the restored Book Depository building reopened for the first time since 1987.
We also spoke to a loan officer who works at a community development financial institution that offers micro-loans to local entrepreneurs. He explained why he’s issued more small business loans in about a year than he did working at a bank for 15 years.
As always, thanks for reading.
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>>Battling blight: The City of Detroit is suing Dennis Kefallinos over blight at four of his properties. The buildings — the old Civic Theater, the former Southwest Detroit Hospital, a church on Grand River Avenue and a warehouse on Wabash Street — are all on Mayor Mike Duggan’s list of notorious abandoned buildings. Kefallinos owns four more properties on that list, though the city said that those named in the lawsuits are the most dilapidated. The city has filed a series of lawsuits against neglectful property owners in recent months, which includes owners of the Packard Plant, the unfinished Perfecting Church and a proposed concrete crushing facility in Core City. American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding has enabled the city’s Law Department to hire seven new attorneys and pursue blight cases more aggressively. The city’s Corporation Counsel Conrad Mallett said he hopes to file as many of these cases as possible before ARPA funding runs out in three years. (Crain’s Detroit Business, Detroiturbex, WDIV, Axios Detroit, BridgeDetroit)
>>A battle at home: The 150-unit Piquette Square apartments opened in 2010 to provide stable housing with wraparound services to Detroit veterans at risk of homelessness. But residents say they’ve experienced a series of floods and poor service in recent years. Burst pipe incidents due to faulty plumbing have resulted in severe damage to apartments and common areas. Owner Southwest Solutions, a nonprofit, said it would cost about $10 million — half of the building’s original cost — to fully replace the plumbing. Residents said the nonprofit no longer conducts many supportive services on-site nor regular wellness checks. Southwest Solutions said it’s working on the issues and touted a higher than average rate of housing stability for tenants of similar buildings. (Michigan Radio)
>>What happened? In 2015, owners of the Brewster -Wheeler Recreation Center in Brush Park unveiled plans for a $50 million redevelopment that would include a community space, a restaurant and an apartment complex. But the building remains vacant eight years later with no plans publicly announced for its future. The building, which is the last standing structure from the Brewster Homes public housing development, was spared demolition in 2014. Residents, however, call it an eyesore and are upset it is still empty all these years later. The city said it’s working with the owner — KC Crain of Crain Communications Inc. — to help facilitate a deal that would lead to its redevelopment. (Detroit News)
MDOT’s uninspiring plans for I-375
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) held the first of several public engagement events to showcase its plans for the I-375 redesign last week. The freeway connecting I-75 to Jefferson Avenue will be resurfaced and converted into a boulevard at a cost of $300 million with construction expected to start in 2025 and finish in 2028.
I-375 was built in the ’50s and ’60s over what had once been Black Bottom, a vibrant neighborhood of mostly Black residents that was demolished under the guise of “urban renewal,” a now-discredited development practice that took place in Detroit and other U.S. cities. Its redesign is one of many projects seeking to reconnect communities split up or destroyed by these kinds of developments. The current plan, which is still in its conceptual phase, calls for a boulevard which has 11 lanes at one point. MDOT says the lanes are necessary to handle the amount of traffic coming from I-75.
Transit advocates and Detroit historians are skeptical of MDOT’s plans.
“We really need to take a deep dive into what the purpose of this rebuild is,” David Gifford of Detroit Transit Guide said on Twitter. The U.S. Department of Transportation grant providing much of the funding for this project is called “Reconnect Communities.” But, Gifford noted, pedestrians will have to cross a massive 11-lane section, making it almost as divided as it is currently.
Jamon Jordan, the City of Detroit’s official historian, has said repaving the freeway could replicate wrongs of the past if “the only people who benefit are the white business owners.” It’s unclear how MDOT’s plan would meaningfully address this issue.
State officials weren’t ready to address these concerns at last week’s open house. Posters featured a few new details about the project and MDOT didn’t hold a public discussion.
“It’s a dog and pony show without the dog or the pony,” one attendee told WDET’s Eli Newman.
MDOT said it is still accepting public comment and recommendations for its design. But it has a long way to go to earn the public’s trust.
DDOT previews new bus rapid transit routes
The biggest change would be the frequency of buses. DDOT plans to create rapid transit routes along the six corridors with the highest usage (Woodward, Jefferson, Gratiot and Grand River avenues, Greenfield and Seven Mile roads). The department says half of all rides occur on one of these routes. Buses would come every 7.5 to 10 minutes along these “Tier 1” routes, which would also receive enhanced bus shelters and traffic signal priority. For the 22 routes that come every 45-60 minutes, DDOT would reduce the wait times to 30 minutes or eliminate the route.
The department expects to host a series of in-person events throughout the spring, though no dates have been announced. Its goal is to finalize the plan by the end of the summer.
What are your public transportation priorities? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know.
Meet a loan officer
How ProsperUs fills Detroit’s small biz financing gaps
Shakir Bralock worked as a branch manager for several banks in Detroit for 15 years. Since joining ProsperUs as a loan officer in March 2022, he’s already issued more small business loans than during his entire time in banking.
That’s because ProsperUs is a micro-lender that issues loans up to $50,000 to local entrepreneurs, especially for people who have less than ideal credit and may not be eligible for a traditional loan.
We spoke with Bralock about his process for issuing loans, why banks may be reluctant to issue loans and some of the biggest challenges facing small businesses in Detroit.
A new chapter for the former Book Depository
The long-vacant Book Depository building opened yesterday for the first time since 1987. Ford Motor Co. has spent the last four years redeveloping the building as part of its grand designs centered around mobility at its Michigan Central Station campus (which is also set to open by the end of the year).
The building’s primary tenant will be Newlab Detroit, which Crain’s describes as “WeWork geared specifically to tech startups.” The 270,000-square-foot facility will house offices, a “Mobility Studio” and other spaces catering to startups in the industry.
The Albert Kahn-designed building functioned as a post office when it opened in 1936. Later, Detroit Public Schools purchased it and used it as a book depository until it was heavily damaged in a fire in 1987. Ford did not disclose the cost to redevelop the building, though the entire Corktown campus is estimated to cost $950 million.