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Midtown Detroit's Redevelopment

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March 10-15, 2004


Detroit's next renaissance


A university, cultural institutions, historic buildings and hundreds of residents are staking their claim in an up-and-coming Detroit enclave

A huge metamorphosis is transforming a part of Detroit known for its blight and despair.

Where most see vacant, boarded buildings, others see opportunities for upscale living. Where some see empty, trash-strewn lots, others see future retail stores and biking paths.

It's not pie-in-the sky thinking or big dreams painted on blueprints.

The projects along the Cass, Woodward and Brush corridors are real and enormous. They are so diverse and the scale of new investments is so large, some people are calling the Midtown area Detroit's real renaissance center.

Map of Midtown

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Investment transforming city within a city

March 10, 2004



Sliding in below radar, with only moderate help from the city and no single big investor, a huge metamorphosis is transforming a part of Detroit known for its blight and despair.

Where most see vacant, boarded buildings, others see opportunities for upscale living.

Where some see empty, trash-strewn lots, others see future retail stores and biking paths.

It's not pie-in-the sky thinking or big dreams painted on blueprints.

The projects along the Cass, Woodward and Brush corridors are real and enormous. They are so diverse and the scale of new investments is so large, some people are calling the Midtown area Detroit's real renaissance center.

Since 1998, building permits have been issued for $796 million in Midtown construction and rehabilitation work. Some Midtown boosters, such as the University Cultural Center Association, estimate the projects could be worth $1.2 billion.

For Detroit, which for a generation has been the poster child for everything that's wrong with urban America, this change represents the seed of a comeback.

Midtown is trying to nurture that seed using everything it's got: a university, creative and ambitious developers, generous corporate citizens, cultural institutions, historic buildings and hundreds of residents who are staking their claim on a 2-square-mile area bound roughly by the Lodge on the west, I-94 on the north and I-75 on the south and east.

Midtown is made up of migrants from other parts of Detroit, its suburbs and other states and countries. They are buying $200,000-$400,000 condos in view of Section 8, or low-income, housing, without batting an eye.

"I look at what this place was like 3 1/2 years ago, and there is no way I would pay anywhere close to that," said Phil Grier, a developer and resident of the Waldorf Loft Condominiums on Cass. "But the change is just remarkable. Dope boys don't own the corner anymore, and it's a lot safer now."

It's an area that's becoming more vibrant as bars, nightclubs, restaurants, the symphony and other institutions open their doors to the public.

But still, not all the blight has vanished, notes longtime Midtown renovator Bob Slattery. "I get amused. I'm so proud of the neighborhood now. But people come down and are horrified." Attorney Kenneth Davies, however, isn't one of those people. He has lived and invested in the Cass Corridor area since 1958. "You know a city has to be a little edgy," he said. "That's why we live here."

But overall, crime is going down, and the image of the area, once considered one of the city's most dangerous, is becoming history itself, said Lt. Kim Mackie- Austin from the Detroit Police Department's 13th (Woodward) Precinct. The precinct polices all of Midtown and north to Highland Park.

Homicides have dropped every year in Midtown between 1999 and 2003. In each year from 1999 to 2001, there were 25 homicides in the 13th Precinct. There were 21 in 2002 and 18 in 2003. There were 402homicides citywide in 2002 and 361in 2003.

Between 1999 and 2002 rapes, robberies, larcenies and auto thefts decreased every year. They spiked last year.

"You can't get the whole story from the numbers alone," Mackie-Austin said. "You have to look around and see how things are changing.

"We've all worked together to address the problem," she said. "It shows that it's working. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be desirous for developers to spend millions of dollars here."

A 'cool city' within a city

If the name Midtown does not ring a bell, it's because it's relatively new. Many residents prefer their scrappy neighborhood identities: They call themselves Cass Corridor artists, or Brush Park pioneers.

But as the area has taken on a more cosmopolitan vibe over the years, developers and others have pushed a more cosmo name. Now, signs indicating Midtown can be found at several entry points.

Despite its devastation and neglect during the 1960s, '70s and '80s, Midtown always had assets.

Through its most depressed days, the area has held a loyal and eclectic mix of artists, preservationists, investors, students, faculty and colorful characters.

When Gov. Jennifer Granholm last year urged the creation of "cool cities," Midtown was already there. Midtown is Detroit's best chance, common wisdom says, for creating a little Chicago- or Manhattan-style neighborhood.

"It has restaurants, bars, clubs, lofts, the arts," said Kurt Metzger, research director at Wayne State University's Center for Urban Studies. "If it can't happen here -- where the whole mix is already established -- it can't happen anywhere in the city.

"The young singles, the creative class, the whole 'cool' class has gotten this area going."

Revolution on a shoestring

South of Midtown, the rebuilding of downtown Detroit unrolls under a huge spotlight. The revival is anchored by corporate giant General Motors Corp., the casinos, stadiums and the multimillion-dollar headquarters of Compuware.

But Midtown almost remains a secret, although it is larger than downtown land-wise and more complex, with neighborhoods that span every use and economic group.

Midtown has had no Compuware -- no single huge mover. Instead, 20 years ago, changes started percolating from local folks on shoestring budgets.

Some of the earliest pioneers have persisted so long that their names are associated with the neighborhoods where they've renovated -- Landy Land for longtime rehabber Joel Landy in the south Cass Corridor, Slatteryville for Slattery in the central Cass area.

In addition, many young people have fallen in love with some of the older homes. Though they are absent during the day, many appear at night, on ladders with their tools and paintbrushes, as silhouettes framed by their windows.

And bigger investors are tackling bigger projects. Cranes and scaffolds wrap around former single-room-occupancy hotels as they're gutted and reborn into chic apartments and condos. For all that -- as in much of Detroit -- it still can be a struggle to live in Midtown. Folks who move there don't have amenities such as large-scale grocery stores, or big-box discount stores such as Target or Costco.

This is still a deep-city neighborhood with all that it implies, good and bad. The southwest quadrant of Midtown, which includes the lower Cass area, has significant numbers of panhandlers, prostitutes and people drinking from bottles in brown paper bags.

In some backstreet neighborhoods, a lack of streetlights makes the area feel unsafe. Graffiti-covered buildings illustrate how far the area has fallen.

Pockets of desertion dot the landscape, although insiders like Slattery say development is so rampant that there's a plan for nearly every vacant lot.

But closer to Wayne State and the entertainment venues on Woodward, new restaurants and shops keep blooming. The longtime favorite Traffic Jam & Snug restaurant now has competition from the 2-year-old Agave restaurant and the Atlas Global Bistro.

"The expressways and the central business district and workplace of Midtown Detroit is your first real shot at having a 24-hour area in the city," said David Farbman, president and chief executive officer of the Farbman Group in Southfield. "The key is to attract more retail to the area."

Making room for progress

As always when a poor area starts being redeveloped, issues arise about who's being displaced.

Some call it gentrification: the conversion of a poorer inner-city neighborhood into an area of middle-class residences.

Others simply call it progress.

Neighborhood activists such as Patrick Dorn, head of the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corp., work to keep new affordable housing in the mix. His group is developing Brainard Town Homes, 120 townhouses that he says will be ready this summer for low-income renters.

Projects funded by the Michigan State Housing Development Agency normally set aside a percentage of the housing units for low-income renters.

For decades, Midtown has had more than its share of social service agencies dedicated to helping down-and-out people. Homeless, mentally ill people and those with substance-abuse problems seemed to concentrate in the Cass Corridor area. Some longtime Midtowners say the agencies were encouraged to locate in the Cass Corridor decades ago because city leaders wanted one place for low-income people to congregate. Others say the agencies are the residual of an economic wave. Single working men often lived in cheap hotels in the area. As jobs began to dry up in the 1970s, the men stayed and more social service agencies moved to the area to accommodate them.

As the area gradually becomes more affluent and property values rise, clients of agencies like the Neighborhood Services Organization say they are being urged to relocate.

"They say they want us all out of here by the 2006 Super Bowl," said Elmer (Chillie) Mack, a 57- year-old Detroiter who frequents the NSO shelter on Third. He said he started noticing changes in the area four years ago. "People are scared with the development, 'cause we don't know where we're going to go" he said.

How it happened

Though Midtown has no single big mover like Compuware, it has one huge enabler -- the University Cultural Center Association.

Beginning in the 1980s, the UCCA helped small, cash-strapped developers fight through paperwork and money problems to acquire and restore vacant buildings. The group used every available tool -- historic designations, federal empowerment zones, grants, the city's nuisance ordinance -- whatever could work.

Several developers and the UCCA say the current city administration has continued to improve relations with developers by streamlining the permitting process, expediting property transfers, dispatching building officials promptly and sharing an overall vision of renewal.

The result?

A person moving into certain areas of Midtown can enjoy a newly rehabbed, $225,000 condo within walking distance of Wayne State University and a stone's throw from the freeways and pay a whopping $370 a year in property taxes. That's right, $370 on a Detroit home that in some other areaswould be saddled with a tax bill of about $6,000.

"Where the future of Midtown goes, I think, is up to the current leadership of the University Cultural Center Association," said former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer. "Of course, the current leadership of the city will have a lot to say about that."

Until recently, however, that administration hasn't said much at all, Midtowners say.

"A lot of the things that have been going on there, the city has been there," Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said in reference to his administration's support. "I think the problem is, and I think they are right about this, that we haven't talked about them enough and the resurgence of the Midtown community."

Contact KIM NORTH SHINE at 313-223-4557 or [email protected] Contact ALEJANDRO BODIPO-MEMBA at 313-222-5008 or [email protected]

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MIDTOWN | WHO LIVES THERE: Detroit's melting pot

Reborn area's cultural offerings, proximity to downtown and funky ambience are drawing an intriguing mix of families, empty nesters and trendy young singles.

March 10, 2004



Sabrina Nelson came for the art, what she calls eye candy, and for an imaginative community she hasn't found anywhere else.

Thomas Roland moved to escape the sameness of the suburbs and to walk places as city dwellers do.

The Rev. Stanley Perry and his wife, Diana, are ready for an urban adventure because their kids are grown and gone.

Wayne State University brought Shiri Katz-Gershon and her husband, Yaniv Gershon, from Israel and they stayed for the international mix of faces and places.

Renee Dooley and Matthew Breneau qualify as neighborhood pioneers, having arrived before this part of Detroit became news, before developers discovered it. It was a time when many people dared not drive through the area, much less move in.

Home to them is Brush Park, the Art Center, the Cass Corridor -- just a few of the neighborhoods that make up Midtown, a formerly deteriorating, now up-and-coming Detroit enclave that could be on the brink of an economic revolution.

Knowingly or not, Midtowners like Nelson and the others are the guinea pigs for what is seen as a Detroit experiment in urban living. They will help determine whether it can take off here as it has in so many other cities.

Painted into a corner

Sabrina Nelson is a single motherwho can testify to the comeback of Midtown. As rental prices have climbed, she has had to find new places to live.

She sees the high-priced lofts going up in Brush Park. She reads the signs with slogans such as "Where History Meets Hip" and she bristles at the prices: $260,000 and up.

"I wish I could afford to live there. Who can afford that, plus condo fees? Not me," she says.

She is associate director of admissions at the College for Creative Studies and the divorced mother of threechildren, ages 3, 16 and 21. She and her 16-year-old sonare painters.

She rents a flat in a four-family building in the Art Center neighborhood, the most affordable place she can find.

She grew up in a neighborhood that was "rampant with heroin and crime," she says.

Midtown is a place that keeps her in the city she loves without exposing her or her children to crime.

"It's such a nice community. I would hate to leave," she says. "There's a lot of grassroots people here, a lot of activists, a lot of artists."

She appreciates the artists who have designed a mural on an otherwise ugly parking garage, the outdoor sculptures and the artistic window displays that "create the eye candy that makes the area interesting."

She's excited that outsiders are discovering Midtown, but she doesn't want too much change.

Development is the way to get rid of "empty liquor stores and wasted buildings," she says. "It's a double-edged sword. It's nice to bring people in. But that drives up the prices. It's sort of like our own little oasis. When you bring in a certain bourgeois element, you can lose the feeling of community."

From Israel to eyesore

The Gershons had never heard of Detroit before Shiri Katz-Gershon accepted a scholarship to work on a doctorate in speech language pathology at Wayne State University. Her husband came, too, to finish a graduate degree in math and work as a professor.

They left their bustling, big-city, beachside life in Tel Aviv in 1999 and arrived in Detroit just as Midtown's mini building boom was beginning.

"Excuse me for saying this, but we found it to be horrible. It was a city in ruins. We thought: 'Is this a joke?' " says Shiri, 37.

Four years later, they've grown to love the city, particularly Midtown, accepting its quirks and relishing its uniqueness.

"We love that the neighborhood is so international. To us, it is the best place to live in Detroit or the suburbs, but what we lack here is a nice park, a big place for groceries," Shiri says.

"To me, the problem here is that a good school does not exist,"says Yaniv, 34.

The two are now parents to two sons, ages 3 and 1, but they've resisted coaxing from their Israeli friends to move to the suburbs and give the children a Jewish education, parks and big backyards.

Instead, they drive to a Jewish school in Southfield. They go to Belle Isle to play. They drive half an hour or more to shop.

But they find their favorite tea at an Indian store in Midtown and buy delicious bread from "our friends" at the Avalon International Bakery.

On top of that, the art museums, the Detroit Film Theatre, the New Detroit Science Center, the restaurants and the annual art and music festivals make the inconveniences worth it, they say.

The arrival of Starbucks and Barnes & Noble has eased the struggle, too.

"We've seen it get better," Yaniv says.

Even after such a shocking introduction, they say it will be hard to leave in two years.

"It will be sad," Shiri says. "We will miss it."

Escape from the suburbs

Unlike the Israeli family, Thomas Roland falls into Midtown marketers' target category.

He's a YSP, a young single professional. Also of interest to Midtown marketers are ENs, or Empty Nesters (older, childless adults looking for smaller residences) and DINKs, which stands for Double Income No Kids.

Roland, a 30-year-old cardiac nurse at Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills, decided earlier this year to rent a $675 apartment at the Blackstone, formerly a flophouse and drug den in the Cass Corridor.

Roland was raised in the suburbs surrounded by monotony, he says. He moved to Midtown for variety. He wanted to walk to bars and restaurants and see live music. He wanted to run into friends and strangers on the street.

Some coworkers think his choice of residence is odd.

He tells them that the city is better than they remember. He warns them that anyone looking for easy living need not approach.

"It's not a perfect area. There are homeless people milling around, but there's homeless people on Main Street in Royal Oak," he says.

Roland has lived in other parts of the city and in Midtown before.

"Now that I'm back, I'm looking back and everything is more upscale."

Which leads him to a common complaint of city dwellers who see themselves as having laid claim to a neighborhood that's unique only to see it get spoiled by gentrification and interest from the masses.

"It's definitely more convenient to live in the suburbs," Roland says. "But it's a boring convenient."

His wife made him do it

At the other end of the Midtown marketing spectrum are the Rev. Stanley Perry and his wife, Diana, empty nesters looking for less upkeep and more of a post-parenthood social life.

The Perrys are 56. Their three daughters are out of the house.

They've decided to give city living a try and leave Southfield, where they've rented an apartment since selling their home in Bloomfield Hills last year. Perry, who preaches at Jeffries Baptist Church in Ferndale, was a reluctant participant.

"Really, my wife was instrumental in talking me into doing this," he says, quickly turning the conversation to her.

"At first, I really had to convince him," she says, laughing. "He couldn't believe I wanted to do this. I would take him down and drive around and show him all the beautiful old buildings."

Her sales pitch went something like this:

"These buildings have been here a hundred years. They're not moving.

"It's nothing like where they clear it out and build all new houses that look alike.

"This area is going to be phenomenal one day."

Her arguments were convincing. Earlier this year, the Perrys put down a deposit on a $280,000 loft condo in the Carlton in Brush Park.

It's an 1890s-era building that's being renovated into $200,000-$500,000 luxury lofts with unobstructed views of the sports stadiums, the Fox Theatre and downtown.

Finding a smaller, lower-maintenance place to live played a bit part in the decision to return to the city.

"I never thought I'd come back," Diana Perry says.

She changed her mind while looking for a place to relocate her business, Vintage Interiors, from Berkley.

"I kept going back, and I realized I was becoming more and more interested in urban living," she says. "The more I talked to people, the more I thought about the long range. I'm hoping for boutiques and restaurants and culture. It's going to come back. I have no doubt.

There before it was Midtown

Artists Matthew Breneau and Renee Dooley bought a cheap, run-down house in Midtown's Art Center neighborhood in 1990.

At the time, there was a drug house down the street. Burned-out houses darkened the view in either direction.

They worked on their house on Kirby Street, concentrated on their paintings and tried to ignore the gunshots and ranting neighbors around them.

Today their street is full of houses being renovated and decorated. Lawns are mowed. Kids play. Dinner parties are thrown.

"The change in our neighborhood has been rather dramatic," says Dooley, 38.

The old city pool around the corner, for years a dangerously deep, muddy hole left behind when the pool house was demolished, is now a budding park.

Breneau and Dooley lived in other parts of Midtown before buying their home 14 years ago. Back then, a mugger took their money. A thief stole their car. Vandals damaged their property. They stuck it out.

"Anything can happen anywhere you live," says Breneau.

Besides, they're living the city lifestyle they prefer.

He walks to work at the Detroit Film Theatre about two blocks away. On his way, he drops off his 2-year-old daughter, Pearl, at the baby-sitter's house and his 7-year-old daughter, Irene, at Golightly Education Center. Dooley drives to an office job in Ferndale, against rush hours.

As much as they don't want Midtown, which isn't yet part of their vocabulary, to become too commercial, they wouldn't mind a corporate power or two sharing the neighborhood with small businesses.

"I want the Target and the grocery store," Breneau says. "It would make things a little easier."

Contact KIM NORTH SHINE at 313-223-4557 or [email protected]

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One is a community stalwart. The other a corporate ideas man. They share a dream for a city they love

March 10, 2004



Some Detroiters can recall the days when the city's sidewalks teemed with pedestrians, and cars and shoppers filled Woodward between downtown and Grand Boulevard.

Since roughly the late 1960s, though, boarded-up buildings have stood guard over the streets, like aging sentries over a troubling combination of poverty and abandonment.

But Francois Castaing and Susan Mosey see just the opposite. They see a spirit of community being resurrected in the same area of the Motor City.

Castaing and Mosey are the behind-the-scenes pair leading the movement to create a vibrant, walkable group of neighborhoods called Midtown.

The group hopes to help give Midtown a face-lift in time for the 2006 Super Bowl in Detroit.

Midtown is a 2-square-mile collection of neighborhoods, including Brush Park and the Cass Corridor, that are bordered by the Fisher, Chrysler, Lodge and Ford freeways.

Castaing and Mosey say Midtown will become an urban oasis that will offer singles, empty nesters and families a place to live, work and play, much like the Midtown areas in Houston, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Born in Marseilles, France, Castaing is widely acknowledged as a brilliant engineering visionary. He enjoys a low public profile but, as chairman of the board of the University Cultural Center Association (UCCA) in Detroit, wields extraordinary influence when it comes to the growth of the Midtown concept. He is also the founder of the Woodward Planning Group, which has been at the center of commercial and residential development in Midtown.

Mosey isa local gadfly who keeps tabs on every project, large and small, that has developed within the boundaries of the freeways. She has led the grassroots movement that merged with Castaing's world of large philanthropic gifts to achieve what many have deemed impossible in Detroit.

Since their first meeting nearly six years ago, Castaing and Mosey have helped secure more than $1 billion for the area, in the form of grants, loans, tax credits and investments.

"Our dream is to have an environment that fosters more pedestrian interaction with the community," Mosey said. "That's why streets need to be appealing and we need park improvements to make this a more livable place."

A turning point

Dinner was for three at Intermezzo in Harmonie Park one night in 1998.

Then-Detroit Symphony Orchestra Chairman and real estate developer Peter Cummings arranged for Castaing and Mosey to meet for dinner to talk about possible collaboration on the New Detroit Science Center and on the UCCA.Cummings, who was to build the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's new Max Fisher Building on Woodward,said he thought getting Castaing, who is his next-door neighbor in Bloomfield Hills, to help Mosey raise money for the UCCA and to help turn around the Science Center would be a good thing.

Meanwhile, Mosey was prepared to make the hard sell to get Castaing, the former head of engineering for the then-Chrysler Corp., on board.

"I had planned to make an impassioned plea to have Francois work with us," she recalled. "But inside of two minutes he said, 'I'd love to do it.' "

Thus the beginning of a professional relationship.

Car guy takes the wheel

Castaing, a consummate car guy, came to the Midtown project with the intention of helping to solidify philanthropic involvement from major Michigan institutions.

The 58-year-old former chief of engineering for Renault Sports (a unit of France-based Renault) had come to Detroit in 1980. He and his wife, Marlies, and daughters settled in Bloomfield Hills.

Castaing came to the United States to become a liaison and later an officer and chief engineer for the former American Motors Corp. He was handpicked by Lee Iacocca and Bob Lutz in 1987 to help turn around the former Chrysler Corp.'s worldwide engineering operations. Under Castaing's watch, Chrysler rolled out several award-winning vehicles, including the Jeep Cherokee, the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Viper.

After he retired from DaimlerChrysler in 2000, Castaing became chairman of the Detroit Science Center, for which he helped raise $30 million to refurbish the aging facility. That was his first foray into the major leagues of project fund-raising.

"Francois is deeply committed to this area," said Meredith Gibbs, executive vice president and chief of staff at Wayne State University. "He motivates and inspires people to grab hold of this dream to make Woodward and all of Midtown a destination place."

Extraordinarily competitive and driven, Castaing says he is working on the revitalization of Midtown because he believes it is the right thing to do.

"Sue will tell you she was making progress, but I don't think she wasgetting all the right feedback in terms of funding for her efforts," Castaing said. "I said what I can do is get the institutions and their leaders to get more involved at a higher level."

Community organizer

Mosey, 49, is a native Detroiter who has worked in urban planning for 30 years. After getting ajoint political science-urban planning degree from Wayne State, Mosey began to cut her teeth in the early 1970s with the Michigan Avenue Community Organization, which focused on development issues in southwest Detroit.

"At the time, neighborhood activism was the way of dealing with political issues of the day," said Mosey, who splits her time between her apartment in Detroit, just north of Midtown, and her home in Grosse Ile.

A grassroots activist at heart, Mosey joined the UCCA in 1987 and began focusing her attention on the neighborhoods surrounding her alma mater.

What began as a beautification effort by picking up trash in the neighborhoods 17 years ago grew into a full-fledged community development project that became the seed and soil for the Midtown project.

"Cities have been coming back across the board in America, and Detroit is definitely one that is on its way," Mosey said. "I feel that there is a very structural change taking place in the center city of Detroit that we'll see blossom over the next 20 years."

Today, Mosey is president of UCCA and the managing member of the limited liability company that runs the Inn on Ferry Street, a 42-unit boutique hotel that spans four Victorian homes and two carriage houses in Midtown.

"Sue Mosey deserves an enormous amount of credit in the same breath for her work in the Midtown area over the last 17 years," said Kenneth Greenberg, an urban designer from Toronto and former consultant with the Greater Downtown Partnership in Detroit. "To bring all the disparate pieces together and give a larger sense of identity to the area is a phenomenal feat."

A working plan

The Woodward Planning Group, a committee within the UCCA, was Castaing's creation.

It is where the brand name Midtown Detroit first was coined. It is also where Castaing was able to assemble a team to help make Woodward Avenue a walkable jewel for the city.

Castaing persuaded a group of influential stakeholders in the Midtown development to meet twice a month for two hours. The purpose was to create a blueprint for the rejuvenation of the area. They discussed everything from getting an ordinance passed that bans the painting of advertisements on the sides of buildings to eschewing parallel parking in favor of diagonal spaces.

In typical fashion, Castaing made sure that everyone had an assignment and was prepared to contribute at every meeting.

"The one word I would use to describe Francois is relentless," opined Nettie Seabrooks, chief operating officer for the Detroit Institute of Arts and a member of the Woodward Planning Group. "One thing about Francois is that he does not take no for an answer."

Original members of the group included Castaing, Mosey, Seabrooks, Cummings; Dave Egner, president of Hudson-Webber Foundation; Al Fields, deputy chief operating officer for the City of Detroit; Meredith Gibbs, executive vice president and chief of staff for WSU; Jennifer Parke, vice chair of the Hudson-Webber Foundation; Sharon Rothwell, vice president of civic affairs for MASCO Corp., and Jim Sears, vice president of facilities, planning and management at WSU.

Contact ALEJANDRO BODIPO-MEMBA at 313-222-5008 or [email protected]

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CITY WITHIN A CITY: After a late start, Detroit is catching up

Across country, urban areas get another chance

March 10, 2004



Houston did it. Cleveland did it. Atlanta pulled it off, too.

Cities around the country desperate to breathe new life into themselves have adopted the midtown model for revitalizing previously decaying sections of town.

Now Detroit is getting into the act, albeit a bit later than most.

Detroit is following the trend that started in the early 1980s of creating so-called midtowns. The city-within-a-city approach to urban revitalization successfully caught on in places such as Houston, St. Louis and Chicago.

St. Louis' neighborhood redevelopment programs go back about 15 years, said Mike Flood, an official with St. Louis' Neighborhood Stabilization Office.

"Today, suburban developers are now coming into the area to do market-rate housing," Flood said, referring to housing that sells or rents at regular prices and is not subsidized. The promotion of the midtown concept is centered on creating self-sustaining urban villages that are vibrant, livable, walkable neighborhoods, strategically linked to central city development.

The midtown blueprint looks to carve out and repopulate urban enclaves that were abandoned physically and economically.

Construction of market-rate housing -- lofts, townhouses and free-standing homes -- is key to successful midtown experiments, experts say. In addition, participation by local financial institutions, the creation of greenway areas, facade improvements and reduction of crime are part of the process of creating vibrant midtown areas, experts say.

"The notion of starting a neighborhood development with affordable rental housing is a fairly common thing in Detroit," said Gary Sands, professor of urban planning at Wayne State University. "But I don't think there are that many examples of projects that have moved all the way up to market-rate housing here."

With the evaporation of manufacturing jobs, infrastructure disinvestment and white flight, Detroit became a case study in urban decay in America.

From 1980 to 2000, the 2-square-mile area of Midtown Detroit lost 29.4 percent of its population, while the housing stock dropped 25.8 percent.

In addition, rampant crime and the introduction of drugs such as crack effectively robbed many Detroit neighborhoods of their appeal.

"Detroit is starting from a harder place than most other cities," said Kenneth Greenberg, an urban designer from Toronto and a former consultant with the Greater Downtown Partnership in Detroit. "The extent to which the world had fallen apart in Detroit is almost greater than any other American city. The sheer area and the loss of 1 million people is almost unparalleled."

What was left is empty houses, buildings and lots. But part of that is what appeals to some Midtown Detroiters.

Kim Swatsler and his wife, Denise Tryon, live in an updated but historically preserved loft with lots of light and city views all around.

Last August they relocated from Baltimore -- another city that is undergoing a similar metamorphosis -- to a top-floor loft in the seven-story Carola in Brush Park. Tryon, 33, is a French horn player with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Swatsler, 51, is a painter and designer of furniture and other crafts.

They also were won over by views of the shiniest parts of the city -- the stadiums and the Renaissance Center -- and the dreariest parts -- junky lots and burned-out houses.

"I like that. It's kind of gritty. It's what makes this area unique," Swatsler said, looking down from his window onto a lone, roofless, burned house on a snowy, empty lot behind their condo.

Success in Houston

One of the keys to advancing the idea of a midtown in Detroit is the creation of what marketers call a branding strategy. In Detroit, University Cultural Center Association President Susan Mosey and Chairman Francois Castaing agreed that establishing an overall district that encompassed the collection of neighborhoods and calling it Midtown Detroit was necessary to market the area to developers and potential residents.

Proponents of the concept say they don't want to usurp the identity of neighborhoods that find themselves within the Midtown boundaries. They are merely looking for a way to distinguish it from the other areas of Detroit, such as the New Center.

"We've looked at putting together a real Midtown brand marketing campaign to become more effective," Mosey said. "And Midtown Houston is definitely one of the best examples to follow."

One effort in Detroit is the installation of street signs off the Lodge and elsewhere that recognize the Midtown name.

At its worst in the late 1980s, Midtown Houston was a 600-acre, 435-block ghost town. The swath of land between the Texas Medical Center and downtown Houston was home to 490 residents, mostly low-income renters. Vacant, boarded-up buildings seemed to attract more interest from squatters than from developers.

Then in 1995, Stephen Bancroft, an Episcopal priest, and Charles LeBlanc, a retired insurance executive, teamed up to create the Midtown Redevelopment Authority in Houston. Bancroft has since moved to Detroit, where he is dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul on Woodward in Midtown. He's also vice chairman of the UCCA and one of the area's strongest advocates for the revitalization.

Key to the success of Houston's midtown was the use of tax incremental reinvestment zones (TIRZ) also called tax incremental financing (TIFs) districts.

TIFs or TIRZ are special districts created by local governments to attract investment to an area. They help finance redevelopment or encourage infill development -- recycling of vacant land -- in an area that otherwise would not attract market-rate development quickly. Taxes that normally would go into local general coffers instead are set aside in a special fund, with portions designated to finance improvements within the TIF or TIRZ district.

To date, neither TIRZ nor TIFs are being used in Midtown Detroit's redevelopment efforts.

Today, there are more than 9,000 residents in Midtown Houston, several loft-style developments and a mushrooming business district.

Midtown Houston (www.houstonmidtown.com) is also home to some of Houston's better public schools.

"It takes the commitment of a lot of people. City officials need to get behind it and promote it," he said. "But it'll work in Detroit. I assure you."

Contact ALEJANDRO BODIPO-MEMBA at 313-222-5008 or [email protected]

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A view of Edmund Place, a street in the Midtown neighborhood of Brush Park. The boarded-up house is framed by a window opening of the Carlton, an 1890s builidng slated for rehabilitation.


Phil Grier, 37, of Detroit and girlfriend Janice Demings, 36, of Sterling Heights enjoy a January thaw in the hot tub on the balcony of Grier's Midtown Detroit condominium.


Francois Castaing, 58, of Bloomfield Hills, chairman of the University Cultural Center Association, strolls in November near the Atlas restaurant on Woodward, in an area he's helping to plan.


Francois Castaing surveys a residential area of Midtown Detroit in November. Describing his role, he says: "What I can do is get the institutions and their leaders to get more involved at a higher level."


Phil Grier enjoys the view from his Midtown Detroit condominium in February. He's the owner and developer of the Waldorf Loft Condominiums, one of many housing developments in the area.


The Rev. Stephen Bancroft speaks to homeless people during breakfast at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in January. Midtown had many homelesess people during its years of blight, and their problems persist. The church has pulled its money from the stock market and reinvested in businesses in the area.


Loft living is the way to go for Kim Swatsler, 51, and his wife, Denise Tryon, 33, who moved to Detroit in August. As the sun streaks into their place at the Carola in Detroit, they enjoy morning coffee before a busy February day. He's a painter and furniture designer; she plays French horn with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.


As Tryon practices in her loft, the city's skyline is visible from her windows. Blighted areas also can be seen. "It's kind of gritty. It's what makes this area unique," her husband says.


Denise Tryon and her husband Kim Swatsler talk in the bedroom of their new loft at The Carola in Detroit.


Susan Mosey, 49, president of the University Cultural Center Association, tells of her Midtown work in November at the Inn On Ferry Street. Castaing and Mosey have helped secure more than $1 billion for the area, in the form of grants, loans, tax credits and investments.


Kim Lynn, 38, of Detroit, cleans a room at Roehm House at the Inn On Ferry Street, a restored Midtown building, in December.


Shiri Katz-Gershon exercises at Wayne State University with her sons -- Evyatar, 3, left, and Yonatan, 1, center -- and Azaan Khan, 3, right, the son of a friend. Katz-Gershon is a student at WSU.


Shiri Katz-Gershon, 37, feeds her son Yonatan Gershon, 1, left, with cereal from her other son Evyatar Gershon, 3, Her husband Yaniv, 34, looks on at their apartment at Wayne State University. Katz-Gershon and her husband are from Israel.


Elmer (Chillie) Mack, 57, who is homeless, smokes near the Neighborhood Services Organization Center in January. "People are scared with the development, 'cause we don't know where we're going to go."


Renee Dooley and Matthew Breneau have a meal with daughters Pearl, 2, right, and Irene, 7. Breneau and Dooley, both artists, bought a run-down Midtown house in 1990.


Renee Dooley walks her daughter Irene back from school.


Sabrina Nelson, 36, and her three children live in a Midtown flat. She worries about rising prices in the area.

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Detroit's faded grandeur slowly comes alive in Midtown's old buildings

Life in the Cass Corridor in the 1970s and '80s:

Anderson's Garden and the Willis Show Bar had big seedy rooms where men could buy a beer, smoke cigarettes and take their pick of prostitutes who slinked between tables.

The large SRO apartments -- Sleeping Rooms Only -- that gave temporary housing to men who had poured into Detroit in the 1920s for auto jobs now housed folks who had fallen out of the labor market. They lived in roach-ridden sleeping rooms where drug deals went down openly outside.

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HISTORY UNCOVERED: Detroit's faded grandeur slowly comes alive in its old buildings.

March 11, 2004



Anderson's Garden and the Willis Show Bar had big seedy rooms where men could buy a beer, smoke cigarettes and take their pick of prostitutes who slinked between tables.

The staff at Beaver Shoe Shine worked topless. And nearby hotels offered 2-hour stays.

The large SRO apartments -- Sleeping Rooms Only -- that gave temporary housing to men who had poured into Detroit in the 1920s for auto jobs now housed folks who had fallen out of the labor market. They lived in roach-ridden sleeping rooms where drug deals went down openly outside.

This was life in the Cass Corridor in the 1970s and '80s. It is one section of a 2-square-mile area in the city that is being reborn as Midtown Detroit.

The facts back up the hype about Midtown's rebirth. People are building and buying $200,000-$400,000 condominiums. Commercial and residential building permits are up 46 percent from 1998. The investment money being poured into Detroit's Midtown is in line with investment made in similar, successfully rebuilt areas in Atlanta, Cleveland and Houston.

A Midtown renaissance is possible, in part, because even at its low point 25 years ago, Midtown had an electricity. It had students, small investors, preservationists, artists and colorful characters.

Few mini-mansions left

Midtown's homes are rare for Detroit -- upper-middle-class houses built before the auto industry shaped the city, starting at the end of the Civil War.

During the late 1860s through the 1880s, handsome mini-mansions filled the Ferry Street area and Brush Park, both on the east side of Woodward.

Between 1895 and 1910, the area that's now Wayne State University's main campus filled in fairly quickly, said Charles Hyde, a professor of history at WSU and an expert on the Midtown area.

"Much of the area was residential," Hyde said. "What wasn't upper-middle-class houses was good apartments."

Detroit's fading star

In the 1890 census, the east side of Woodward had Michigan's highest economic status, and the area west of Woodward was second, said researcher George McMahon.

But by 1960, both sides ranked among the state's lowest economically, said McMahon, the longtime community liaison at Burton International School on Cass.

And by the 1970s and '80s, blight blanketed much of the Brush-Woodward-Cass area. At Midtown's southeast corner, the great homes of Brush Park were being abandoned and then stripped by vandals, many eventually collapsing. Wild pheasants nested in the vacant fields that once held Victorian mansions.

In the northeast corner, the handsome homes of East Ferry Street -- also dating back to the 1860s -- were boarded up.

Living with exhaust fumes

Surprisingly, the first blow against the area came from the auto industry. Factories moved right into the neighborhood, said Hyde, including the Willys Jeep assembly plant, a carburetor manufacturer and more.

Their pollution and noise marred the quality of life for residents. Around 1910, Detroit's upper middle class began migrating to the then-new Boston-Edison neighborhood and Indian Village.

By 1917 and America's entry into World War I, job-seekers from other parts of the country were pouring into the Cass Corridor. "It became the city's intake area," McMahon said.

As folks who'd built the big homes moved out, their homes were sliced into rooming houses. Vacant land was filled with cheap hotels and apartments.

"The name flophouse comes from this time," said Hyde. "They rented a bedroom with one shared bath on each floor. They just flopped there and went to sleep.

"When they got a job, they'd bring up their family and get a flat."

By the 1930s, throngs of people were migrating to Midtown from the South. Like in the South, race dictated where one lived.

Woodward Avenue marked a fiercely maintained racial divide. Black families packed the area east of Woodward. Whites, mostly from Appalachia, stayed west. The Detroit race riots of 1943 took place mostly along Woodward in the area.

When construction began on I-75 in 1959, it decimated the black neighborhoods around Hastings Street, called Paradise Alley and Black Bottom. Those residents, their businesses and the area's rich culture were scattered.

By the 1970s, the Cass Corridor was in its final downhill slide, said longtime resident Patrick Dorn, who directs the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corp.

"The population was probably 10 times what it is now," said Dorn, who arrived in 1968.

But when auto hiring slumped, workers could no longer pay rent. Apartment owners mined what rent they could from the crumbling buildings, Dorn said, then just walked away.

The pioneer spirit

Somehow in the 1970s and early '80s, a few urban pioneers looked at the ruins and said: "I can make something of that."

"It's a good place. We have everything here," said longtime investor Bill Marsh, who moved to the area in 1969.

"We thought we were just going to set the world on fire," recalled Bob Slattery, who arrived in 1975 and bought four Cass Corridor buildings in 1981, including the mini-mansion he'd remodel into his first home.

"We didn't realize that with 18-percent interest rates, we weren't going very far," he said of the 1981-82 economy. For those who could see past the blight, the homes were gorgeous and the prices were low.

But banks noticed the blight and were reluctant to put money into the area.

Julio Bateau, an engineer from Haiti, hunted through the boarded-up houses of East Ferry Street in the 1980s for a place to restore as a Caribbean Cultural Center.

"The bank told me the only way they'd look at the loan was if I bought the whole block," Bateau said. "That's how I became a developer overnight. I couldn't get out." Many credit Susan Mosey -- head of the University Cultural Center Association -- for leading the early shoestring investors through a near-impossible challenge.

One huge jump start was the UCCA's work with the Detroit Historic Designation Committee to get parts of the area registered as historic sites -- a process that takes years of paperwork.

That historic designation created seed money for early rehabbers by giving a 20-percent tax credit on the cost of rehabbing commercial buildings.

That could be parlayed into 20-percent equity, which let the rehabber seek a conventional loan for the other 80 percent of the project.

The UCCA also brought in a large grant from the Hudson-Weber Foundation to help small-time investors get started. The money paid for the engineering studies and architect work necessary to take a plan to the bank.

Fighting crime in Midtown

By the late 1970s, Anderson's Garden, Willis Show Bar and their ilk had already been padlocked by police after agitation by residents like the late Beulah Groehn-Croxford. The staunch preservationist formed the Coalition Against Prostitution and also led the fight to save historic areas, such as the Canfield block.

In 2002-03, former Wayne County Prosecutor Michael Duggan moved against the owners of the buildings that had the most complaints for drug sales, assaults and burglaries.

"What we did was have the police give us a list of the statistics," said Maria Alfaro-Lopez, Wayne County prosecutor for Highland Park and former chief of the prosecutor's office forfeiture division.

The forfeiture division then moved against owners of the worst drug dens, using drug forfeiture laws. One, it turned out, had been lost to the city five years earlier for unpaid taxes, but the old landlord continued to rent rooms.

The city closed the two worst buildings, Alfaro-Lopez said, and the effects rippled further. Attorney Kenneth Davies, who has lived in the area and owned apartment houses since 1958, said,"Right there those closings changed the whole flavor of the corner of Alexandrine and Woodward."

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POINT OF CONFLICT: Development clashes with needs of homeless

Social service groups want say in progress

March 11, 2004



Two gates in Detroit's Cass Corridor lead to two different worlds.

At one, a chain-link gate closes automatically to protect parked cars from thieves at the Neighborhood Services Organization's homeless shelter. Behind that gate is a universe populated overwhelmingly by poor, hungry and often-troubled black men.

Around the corner and up the street, a wrought-iron gate opens into an affluent, mostly white, condominium community. The relativelynew development represents what Midtown developers are trying to create: a self-contained haven for young families,singles and empty nesters.

These starkly different worlds open into the same Cass Avenue neighborhood and present tangible challenges in the transformation of Midtown Detroit.

"I think new development is wonderful, but we need to be brought into the discussion with developers," said Sheilah Clay, president of the Neighborhood Services Organization, which provides services and direct care for homeless people. "We want to make sure that our consumers . . . are taken care of."

NSO is in discussions with the City of Detroit to move out of the Cass Corridor by the end of this year. It serves between 300 and 400 people a day, according to Ronald Riggs, director of the 24-hour walk-in center.

But the reality is that many of the people who congregate at the facility are a nuisance to residents and commuters who are consistently solicited by beggars.

David Turner, who owns a nearby condo with his wife, Ann, says Detroit has to change if it wants to live up to its goal of being a world-class city. "We're very compassionate people, but that being said, if you want to bake a cake, you've got to break some eggs." Since the 1970s, the Cass Corridor, bordered by Canfield, Temple, Woodward and the Lodge Freeway, has been an urban Bermuda Triangle, where homeless people disappear and few outsiders venture.

Social service agencies there, such as the NSO, have struggled to create environments for clients that encourage them to get help and become self-sufficient. But the city and developers have another mission, some say.

"The city is trying to revitalize the Cass Corridor for the Super Bowl, and I can't imagine they want too many social services organizations working out of the dilapidated buildings in the area," said Maj. Tom Tuppenney, executive director of the Salvation Army-Eastern Michigan Division Harbor Light System. The Salvation Army's Harbor Light Treatment facility and administrative offices moved out of the Cass Corridor to 3737 Lawton last year.

"We still have our men's shelter in the Cass Corridor. We didn't want to just walk out of the area completely," Tuppenney said.

One person helped by such agencies is David.

David wouldn't give his last name because he's afraid someone in his family might recognize him. The 48-year-old said he has been living on the streets and in vacant buildings in the Cass Corridor off and on for 20 years. An alcoholic with few skills, David admits he "hustles"-- from collecting cans to panhandling -- to make ends meet.

"Man, if they close this place, we're going to be hit," he said, referring to the fact that life will likely get tougher for homeless people. "I don't blame folks for wanting us out of here, 'cause they're putting money in here. But, I don't think they need to push the homeless out of here."

Henry Hagood, director of development activities in the city's Planning and Development Department, said Detroit is not trying to move people out.

"We're trying to assist those organizations that are giving care to meet their needs, but some of the buildings are just outdated," he said. "This notion that they are being pressured isn't true."

One organization that could use assistance is Crossroads of Michigan, a 33-year-old social service agency that runs a soup kitchen and helps poor people obtain jobs and other needs. Crossroads is looking for a new home after 21 years in the same spot.

The Arts League of Michigan, part of a residential, commercial and art gallery project called the Garfield Lofts II, is moving into Crossroads' space on Forest near John R.

Crossroads currently operates rent-free in a space provided by the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. The church, which is investing in development projects in Midtown, plans to cover Crossroads' moving and rental fees, said executive director Mary Honsel said.

Still, she worries that clients could be hurt.

"Folks count on us. If we're too far one way or the other, folks won't be able to get to us," she said. "Overall, I think what's happening here is exciting. I just wish our clients could be a part of it."

The Turners say the socioeconomic diversity gives the Cass Corridor a unique feel.

David Turner, 39, owner of B&D Novelty Co. in Detroit, and Ann Turner, a 41-year-old Detroit Public Schools teacher, moved to the Cass Corridor from Grosse Pointe in 1998. The couple -- both native Detroiters and parents of two girls -- are excited about the changes that are under way in Midtown.

"I think for sure that low-income people are being moved out," said David Turner. "My hope is that as the neighborhood comes back further, that the landscape will look more like metro Detroit -- not all black, not all white, but diverse across the board."

Contact ALEJANDRO BODIPO-MEMBA at 313-222-5008 or [email protected]

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It has been a long time coming

March 11, 2004



It's not rocket science. If you want to breathe new life into an investment-starved area, you start where there's still flesh and bone.

Which is why it's not surprising that the swatch of the city that's now experiencing a renaissance stretches along the city's spine -- Woodward, from the Fisher Freeway to the New Center. It is known as Midtown.

It's got the Detroit Medical Center. It's got Wayne State University, Orchestra Hall and the Masonic Temple. It's got activists and museums and funky shops. It's got churches and galleries and bookstores. It's a resurrection waiting to happen.

So the question isn't 'Why Midtown?' but 'Why didn't somebody do it sooner?'

"We did," said Ronald Hewitt. "Or at least, we tried." he was head of the city's Planning Department under former Mayor Coleman A. Young, with whom he'd served in various positions during Young's 20-year tenure.

Young often was criticized for favoring downtown development over neighborhood investment.

"That really stuck in his craw," said Hewitt, who is now retired. "He would have liked to have made a more dramatic impact on the neighborhoods, but the need was so vast, whatever money you spent there did not have the same visual impact as a development downtown."

Young was indeed a proponent of development downtown, Hewitt acknowledged. "But he also had his eye on building housing in other parts of the city, namely in the Woodward Corridor."

Even that idea was an old one, said Hewitt.

In the mid-1960s,Mayor Jerome Cavanagh "talked about clearing the slums to make way for a research park connected to Wayne State," he said.

The research park was to be north of Wayne State at the intersection of the Lodge and Ford freeways. About 90 families were removed from the area before residents protested in full, standing in front of bulldozers, holding sit-ins at City Hall and even dropping burning matches into holes where workers were disconnecting gas lines.

The protesters were angry that the redevelopment did not include plans for new housing. By 1975, a subsidized housing project had been built instead, and the plans for the research park, which never had any viable tenants, died.

"I point this out to people all of the time," said Hewitt. "As a government agency, you can try to create the conditions to nudge private developers in a certain direction. But it doesn't happen until the people with the money see a market."

Town Within the City

The Young administration seemed to be poised on such a moment when, in 1987, the board of Detroit Renaissance embarked upon an exhaustive strategic planning project for the city. The Detroit Strategic Planning Project called for Detroit's captains of industry to draw a vision for the city in five major areas: race relations, education, crime, image and economic development.

"But the train started to leave the station without them talking to the mayor," remembered Bob Berg, Young's former press secretary. "The structure was very corporate and very white. The mayor put a stop to it and said, 'This is my city. You need to approach this differently.' " The project could easily have been sunk by the all-too-familiar struggle between blacks and whites, the city and suburbs. But Detroit Renaissance agreed to make the process more inclusive, forming widely representative committees to devise a vision in each of the five areas. Each committee was headed by two cochairs, one white and one black. The Jobs and Economic Development Task Force was headed by African-American Detroit attorney David Baker Lewis, and the white General Motors Corp. Executive Vice President F. Alan Smith.

"Building a town within a city was the premier recommendation that came out of our task force," recalled Lewis. "And the area from the downtown theater district to New Center was a natural."

According to the final report, the "Town Within the City" would be a targeted area to receive "an intensively focused development effort, in a form and on a scale that would attract national attention." The project would create a "large contiguous area of stable development within the central core of Detroit, resulting in a radical improvement within five years." The task forced envisioned that it would include housing, retail, businesses and cultural and public institutions in order to create a "life cycle" community, one that is as hospitable to parents raising children as it is to empty nesters.

And the place designated to become the Town Within a City? Midtown.

"It didn't feel like pie in the sky, even back then," said Lewis. "There was a sense of realism that pervaded the Jobs and Economic Development Task Force because of the difficult economic times the city had been through. We knew we had to propose something that was workable, and to us, this seemed doable. Plus, the recommendation was like an acknowledgement of what the city already had on the drawing board."

Why, then, didn't the idea take off?

It wasn't for lack of mayoral support. Although he was initially opposed to the Detroit Strategic Planning Project, Young ultimately embraced the plan, including the concept of a Town Within a City, according to S. Martin Taylor, senior vice president for human resources and corporate affairs at DTE Energy. In 1987, Taylor was president of New Detroit Inc. and part of the mayor's kitchen cabinet when he was asked to serve on the executive committee for the planning project.

"The mayor's initial resistance had been about people coming into the city and imposing some development that may not have been in the city's best interest," said Taylor. "But I met with him regularly during the planning process. He agreed that it was foolish and ineffective to try to redevelop the entire city. You had to concentrate your resources."

A planted seed, tiny sprouts

When years passed and nothing came of the idea of building a Town Within the City, Young tried to reinvigorate the idea.

"He gathered businessmen in his office and divided the Woodward Corridor by sections," said Hewitt. "He gave each one responsibility for developing a little area between Grand Circus Park and Wayne State, and they were pretty enthusiastic. But he wasn't around long enough to drive it. He left office before the ideas took hold."

More than a decade followed with no comprehensive redevelopment in Midtown. But beneath the radar, there were consistent pockets of change.

"Everybody looks at the Cass Corridor in a certain way, but there's always been a lot of activists and talented people in that area who've been doing the kind of development that's lasting and speaks to the needs of the people," said Hewitt. "It's been lacking a lot of things, but not people who are willing to make a change."

Lewis likes to think that his task force's recommendations had a subtle, percolating effect on Midtown development.

"Maybe in some semiconscious way, the Town Within a City planted a seed about the potential of that area," he said, pointing to the fact that 15 years ago, there was no Veterans Administration Hospital, no new housing and no expansion of key institutions like the Dr. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the College for Creative Studies, Golightly Public School, Cass Technical High School and the New Detroit Science Center. "It wasn't all clear at the time, but maybe Town Within a City put some momentum behind ideas that were germinating at the time," said Lewis.

Task force cochair F. Alan Smith agreed. "What I have observed is that now a lot of things are happening," he said. "I have to think that it was useful to get people organized around the same ideas."

Contact DESIREE COOPER at 313-222-6625 or [email protected]

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David Turner, 39, plays in the January snow with daughter Natalie, 2, outside their condo at Second Avenue Terraces Co-owners Association. The businessman loves the Cass Corridor neighborhood, but realizes development is displacing needy people.


TOP: Homes on Edmund Place in Brush Park near Woodward offer a splendid picture of 1896 Detroit.

BOTTOM: One of the same houses sits in forlorn disrepair in 1990.


Today, trees line Edmund Place near John R. where homes once stood.


A row of homes built in the late 1800s graces Canfield between 2nd and 3rd in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood. Many of the houses have been lovingly restored, and other projects are in the works.


Ann Turner, 41, and her husband, David Turner, 39, play with daughters Natalie, 2, right, and Elizabeth, 4, at their home in the Second Avenue Terraces Co-owners Association. The young professionals enjoy the diversity of the Cass Corridor and are excited about changes coming to the area.


Sheilah Clay is president and chief executive of the Neighborhood Services Organization, which helps 300 to 400 needy people each day. "We want to make sure that our consumers . . . are taken care of.


Anderson's Garden and other entertainment spots gave the Cass Corridor a seedy reputation. They closed in the late 1970s, and the area has had an uphill climb from years of blight.

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Rebuilder does it one brick at a time

Joel Landy, 51, of Detroit says he was always drawn to Midtown: "It was architecture and city life." By redeveloping old buildings, he has quietly transformed his neighborhood.

Joel Landy was born to live in Detroit. He actually was born in Detroit, but his parents, the children of Russian immigrants, moved the family to Oak Park in 1953. Still, he was drawn to high school at Cass Tech, Hudson's on weekends and his dad's auto parts business on Gratiot at 6 Mile, where he spent Saturdays.

"Oak Park was kind of this little ghetto, even though it was a middle-class ghetto and isolated," recalled Landy, 51. "Cass Tech was the world, the big city. It was an eye-opening experience."

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ROCHELLE RILEY: Man on a mission: Homework

March 12, 2004



Third in a series.

Joel Landy was born to live in Detroit. He actually was born in Detroit, but his parents, the children of Russian immigrants, moved the family to Oak Park in 1953. Still, he was drawn to high school at Cass Tech, Hudson's on weekends and his dad's auto parts business on Gratiot at 6 Mile, where he spent Saturdays.

"Oak Park was kind of this little ghetto, even though it was a middle-class ghetto and isolated," recalled Landy, 51. "Cass Tech was the world, the big city. It was an eye-opening experience."

It was an experience that grabbed him and wouldn't let go for 40 years. Landy, a political independent, eventually became drawn to the Cass Corridor, which in the 1970s was Detroit's Greenwich Village, a haven for political and antiwar activists and a gathering place for the socially conscious and for many of the city's poor. The neighborhood was filled with abandoned beauty, and it was also plagued by arson and crime.

If Midtown represents Detroit's greatest chance at a second neighborhood renaissance, then Landy and the other developers like him, who have toiled under the radar and without fanfare for decades, are the engines that have made it work.

"I wouldn't say it was the people I was drawn to. It was architecture and city life," Landy recalled. "There were, of course, around the university area, people that were committed to a good quality of life and political change. Yet on the street were mostly winos and alcoholics. It was a coexistence. It wasn't one against the other. I had my space, that I was able to have my freedom and do what I wanted, and other people lived here and that was fine. That was one of the important things about the Cass Corridor. It was tolerance of many different lifestyles and ideas."

It was a place that Landy decided not only to make his home, but to encourage others to make their home. He became part of the solution, buying and transforming old buildings into condos and apartments -- mostly one project at a time.

Landy, a thin man whose hair doesn't listen to him, has spent roughly $24.5 million on redevelopment projects since 1978 and completed renovations on 10 Midtown properties, including the old Addison Hotel, which now holds 40 apartments and the Atlas Global Bistro, one of Detroit's newest popular restaurants.

"I started with $200," Landy said. "It was all financed."

City officials love him and support his dreams because they match theirs.

"We think Joel has done a great job," said Henry Hagood, director of development activities for the Detroit Planning and Development Department. "When Joel was on the front end, it was difficult. But he's a bulldog, and he just stayed with it and stayed with it and didn't take no for an answer from the city and didn't take no for an answer from the investors and didn't take no for an answer from those who said he shouldn't be there. That's what we need for the city."

Landy's dual goals are:

First, to lure residents back to one of Detroit's fastest-growing areas by improving his own neighborhood. (He lives in an 8,000-square-foot mansion and bed-and-breakfast inn that was once a hotel and rooming house.)

Second, to restore the famed buildings that made Detroit special. He is known to spend more money to preserve brick and retain original wood rather than use cheaper substitutes. He maintains a building's integrity, even if it means working slower and making less money on his projects.

"I don't really consider myself a developer at this point," Landy said. "I'm a developer to banks and the city. But more of a word for me would be 'community developer.' I really started here to rebuild and protect my neighborhood. That's kind of how the whole thing started."

It actually started in 1967, when Landy became politically active and grew up too soon. He dropped out of Cass at 16 because he was bored, something he encourages students not to do now.

He opened a print shop at the Lodge Freeway and Warren, next to the Fifth Estate office, the underground newspaper of the day. He worked for the newspaper and also for WABX-FM, the underground radio station.

Pretty soon, he wanted a change. So he moved to Chicago, where he dabbled in music promotion and co-owned a rock and roll club. He also had an underground radio show on WTLV-FM (102.7), Radio Free Chicago. And he opened a second printing company, the Red Star Press. He covered the trial of the Chicago 7 and other news.

But Detroit called to him, so he came home "and got into the video business."

"I did some rock and roll videos, some commercials, but I could only do black and white because color cameras were $100,000," he said. He quit video production to work in computers for a while -- until he bought a sports car.

"It was an old MG from a Detroit News Sunday want ad," he said. "My dad was still in the auto parts business, and I asked if I could work on it in the back of the store. I'd come back from Chicago and was not doing a lot. I started fixing that car, and other people asked me to fix their cars, and somehow I was in the foreign car-repair business," he said.

Landy owned the business for nearly 25 years.

"My hobbies have always become my businesses," he said.

His life changed again when he ran into some friends at a bar and met Bill McLain. Landy spent the night at McLain's three-story Victorian mansion that had been restored in the 1950s.

"I walked out into the backyard the next day, and there was this beautiful old Victorian carriage house. I said, 'Why don't you let me live there. I'll put in plumbing. He said sure . . . So I started renovating the carriage house and was living in it."

He and McLain became partners.

"A house behind us became available, and three of us bought it: Bill McLain, myself and an EMS driver we knew. We each paid $1,500. I got a car loan on my car, and that's how I supported my third of the house. An old woman died there and her family wouldn't even drive to the neighborhood, so they left everything in the house: trunks with clothes and pictures and gold pocket watches and furniture. We couldn't live in the house and didn't have an alarm, and even though we were right across the alley, people stole all the furniture.

"We'd board it up, think we were secure, and we'd come back and they'd cleaned out another room."

But Landy never gave up. He continued to buy properties, bringing in responsible tenants, fighting for balance in a neighborhood that has more social service agencies than any other in Detroit.

Landy lavished praise on the city for its commitment to the developments and the help its Planning and Development Department has provided him.

"This administration has done well in building up from the past," he said. "It's not just springing up. There are 20 or 30 people and a few institutions in this neighborhood that have been working very hard for 20 to 30 years to create change, and it's been a process and the change has come over those years. And we've always talked about this mass of people and enough change to make a difference. We've got to that point where people started noticing the change. That's another thing that has changed in the last two or three administrations, is again all sorts of people are willing to live and do business in Detroit."

More than $200 million was invested in new residential housing in Detroit from 1994 to 1999, according to a Crain's report based on information from the Detroit Planning and Development Department. Much of that was spent in Midtown, including the proposed Charlotte Peterboro National Historic District and its Addison Apartments, which feature oak floors and 9-foot ceilings and which provide excellent views of the annual America's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Landy's work speaks for itself, but that doesn't keep supporters from speaking for him.

Sue Mosey, president of the University Cultural Center Association, called him "one of the bright lights of the neighborhood." And fellow developer Robert Slattery called him "the alderman of south Cass."

"I saw this area as Detroit's richest resource," said Slattery, president of Midtown Development and 11 related companies. "It had the most going for it, second only to the riverfront. I still think that. Joel and I have similar views. He's a great guy and he's committed his life to this."

Landy's cult-like passion for Charlotte-Peterboro is legend.

"My dedication to my neighborhood has survived many relationships," said Landy, whose girlfriend, Linda Morris, his assistant and bookkeeper, works out of his office in the Addison apartment building. He is divorced from his first wife.

The neighborhood, he said, "has taken precedence over having children and everything else in my life."

Like a fire, sometimes a renaissance begins with a single spark. For Midtown, it could be the individual flames of community preservationists like Joel Landy, who are helping to bring Detroit back -- one brick at a time


Contact ROCHELLE RILEY at 313-223-4473 or e-mail [email protected] Her columns appear on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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BUILDING DIVERSITY: Black developers seek a fair hand in projects

Some fear race issues could block progress

March 12, 2004



It was an issue in the building of Detroit casinos, Detroit stadiums and Detroit schools: How big a piece of the economic pie will black people get when it comes to redeveloping the city?

As development fever takes hold in Midtown Detroit, many black residents and entrepreneurs want to make sure that black people get a fair share of any potential profits that could come from the neighborhood's renaissance.

"There is definitely an excitement of the renaissance, but there is also concern about participation in that renaissance," said David Burnley, president of Devon Industrial Group, a general contracting and construction firm that is building Detroit Medical Center's Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan on Mack and Brush.

"The playing field is still uneven, and race is always an issue," he said. "But things are changing for the better."

Already, there are some success stories. Firms led by blacks are developing projects in Midtown that include the 172-unitPalmer Court Townhouses and the 43-unit East Ferry Street residential development.

But developers and others watching Midtown's phenomenal growth note Detroit's history of race problems and how, if unchecked, they can impede progress.

The color of development

When Detroit voters approved a $1.5-billion bond in 1994 for capital improvements to schools, some residents and black contractors worried that much of the work would go to firms outside Detroit and that minority-owned firms would be shut out.

Meetings were held between contractors and school officials, said Charles Beckham, who led the Association of African American Businesses and Contractors for a decade. The result: Detroit Public Schools hired a record number of minority contractors, about 50 percent, for its massive building program.

In Detroit, minorities have had to fight harder, exert pressure and push for new policies to earn jobs on major projects, Beckham said. Past tactics have included demanding business owners write inclusion clauses in contracts that guarantee minority participation in construction projects.

"In the last five, 10, 15 years you've had some guys who have gotten into the development game and done extremely well. We have some highly qualified African-American developers in this town who have been around a long time," he said. "Obviously, we could always use more, but it's a step at a time."

N. Charles Anderson, president of the Detroit Urban League, said to ignore the role of race in Detroit is to ignore history.

"The disinvestment of Detroit over the last 30 years was based strictly on racial preferences and feelings of those that abandoned the city after the riot of 1967," said Anderson, whose office is in the Midtown area.

But Susan Mosey rejects any notion that race is a factor in how Midtown develops. She is president of the University Cultural Center Association, which created the Midtown brand.

"We clearly have a vision of a very diverse neighborhood," she said. "I do feel in our neighborhood that we have attracted African-American investment. I see it happening with both commercial and residential development."

Mosey and others point to a number of blacks who are developing projects in Midtown.

"I don't think of myself as a black developer," said Julio Bateau, the managing partner for the East Ferry Street project. "I'm a developer who happens to be black."


Julio Bateau, 53, of Detroit in a condominium he helped develop on East Ferry Street.

Bateau, a mechanical engineer from Haiti, has built or renovated 43 units in his East Ferry Street residential project over the last decade. His first project in Midtown, which got off the ground due in large part to Mosey and the UCCA, was in 1979.

Reintegrating a neighborhood

If Midtown is considered a neighborhood, then it likely could be the most integrated ethnically, economically and socially in the Detroit metropolitan area.

Data from the 2000 census show African Americans make up about 70 percent of the 16,877 residents of Midtown Detroit. Whites represent about 19 percent; Asians 7.6 percent; Hispanics are 1.9 percent, and Native Americans are 0.5 percent.

Keeping a racial mix, some say, becomes a delicate act, especially when the value of property in the 2-square-mile area changes so rapidly and there's a mix of housing for various incomes.

"We're trying to strike a balance, but when you're trying to renew and rejuvenate a neighborhood, it's hard not to run all the residents out of there," said Beckham, who is a board member of the Detroit Neighborhood and Family Initiative Inc., a social service agency in Midtown. "Gentrification pushes people out. That's one of the complaints down there."

Further clouding the picture of inclusion is the role of financial institutions, experts say.

"Forty years ago, it was virtually impossible for an African American to get a loan from a white-dominated bank, and that was clearly detrimental to the development of African-American communities. But the situation is more complex now," said Thomas Sugrue, professor of history and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit."

"I can't speak for the here and now, but banks are required to serve and grant loans to folks in minority and low-income communities," Sugrue said.

Financing progress

The Community Reinvestment Act, enacted by Congress in 1977, was intended to monitor depository institutions and help them meet the credit needs of the communities in which they operate, including low-income areas.

Between 1998 and 2002, the number of loans to residents and businesses in Midtown Detroit increased from 93 to 268, according to government data.

National City Bank has been offering residential and commercial banking products that it has used in the last two decades to redevelop downtown Cleveland. One such tool the bank offers in Midtown is the National City Housing Affordable Mortgage Program.

The financing program helps clients form partnerships with developers and find construction loans and provides discount mortgages to encourage home-buyers to move to Midtown.

"We want to encourage the middle class to come back or in some cases stay in Midtown Detroit," said Richard Buss, vice president of National City Bank.

Ideally, Beckham says, he wants to see a mix of people repopulate the area rebuilt by a diverse workforce.

"We're seeing more minority and women developers down there," Beckham said. "Like everything else, development is a field that begins to open itself up after a while, particularly in a place like Detroit with a predominantly black population.

"What we need to keep going there is the mix of developers, majority and minority guys, who really have a feel and a love for the community."

African Americans in Midtown

Contact ALEJANDRO BODIPO-MEMBA at 313-222-5008 or [email protected] Staff writers Kim North Shine and Megan Christensen contributed to this report.

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Wayne State University is crucial to redevelopment

During the past five years, about 2,000 housing units, including some of Detroit's priciest lofts and townhouses, have been built in Midtown.

To help propel the turnaround, Wayne State University president Irvin Reid and other decision-makers decided to step outside the campus borders and spend millions of dollars on abandoned buildings and unused lots.

"The university is a microcosm of the city. It cannot segregate itself," Reid said. "Think of it as an organism, like the human body. It's like having a heart without a liver, a lung without the kidneys."

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COMMUNITY FOCAL POINT: WSU is crucial to redevelopment

School, its neighbors are interdependent

March 13, 2004



When Irvin Reid took over as president of Wayne State University in 1997, heavy steel chains blocked pedestrian walkways, grassy areas and other spots across the central Detroit campus and the public streets leading to it.


"I wish we had weighed them," Reid said Friday. "We're probably talking about thousands of pounds of heavy steel chains that said symbolically, 'You are not welcome here.' "

That was not a message that he wanted to send. So, not long after Reid's arrival, the blockades started coming down.

That change, however, was only a minor step in a major plan to make the university a neighborhood investor, urban planner and overall force in the revival of a forgotten part of the city now making a comeback as Midtown.

During the past five years, about 2,000 housing units, including some of Detroit's priciest lofts and townhouses, have been built in Midtown.

To help propel the turnaround, Reid and other decision-makers decided to step outside the campus borders and spend millions of dollars on abandoned buildings and unused lots.

"The university is a microcosm of the city. It cannot segregate itself," Reid said. "Think of it as an organism, like the human body. It's like having a heart without a liver, a lung without the kidneys."

On campus, the university scored a coup when it persuaded a Barnes & Noble and a Starbucks to locate there. The bookstore opened in 2002; the Starbucks earlier this year. Both have entrances on major thoroughfares to serve students and nonstudents.

Probably the most massive of the university's off-campus projects lies to the north of campus at a place called TechTown. Planners say as many as 6,000 employees could work there one day in the fields of research, high technology and science. A human tissue bank is moving in next month, and NextEnergy, a $30-million research center for alternative fuel, is expected to open in 2005.

The university backed TechTown with $10.5 million in loan guarantees, acquired a $2-million grant for the project and persuaded the state to make the area a tax-discounted zone.

"Everything we're doing has an element of serving people who are students here and people who are not students here," Reid said.

Over the past four years, the school has spent more than $200 million buying property, said John Davis, vice president for finance.

New buildings are rising on some property, while renovations proceed at others. In some cases, the school keeps control of the property and hires its own contractors. In other cases, such as a project called South University Village, outside developers are invited to do their own projects.

Reid's predecessor, David Adamany, also emphasized Wayne State's connection to the larger Midtown neighborhood during his more-than 14 years as president."From the day I came here, I looked around -- I had a feeling the city could come back," he said in 1996.

Wayne State's immediate goal of playing developer was, and still is, to make the run-down stretches around the school more inviting and less known as places to clutch purses and leave before nightfall.

The longer-term goals are to attract more students and, in turn, businesses and to elevate the university's reputation.

Wayne State, which is roughly between Woodward, the Lodge, Warren and I-94, has 8,244 employees working in the city and more outside Detroit. Student enrollment is just over 33,000.

Wayne State's expansion gobbled up neighborhoods west of the Lodge Freeway in the late 1960s and led to protests by a variety of community groups.

The school's growth has destroyed some historic buildings, but officials have also preserved a number of late 1800s-era structures, said Karen Nagher, vice president of Preservation Wayne, a local preservation society.

"There are a few things we're worried about," Nagher said, including at least one historic home that's in the school's hands and may be demolished. "But Wayne has always been cooperative, and with the economy being what it is, it's important" to have the development.

For students, the Midtown changes bring benefits and drawbacks.

"There are a lot of cool things going on. The Cass Corridor used to be really scary. Now you can walk there and have fun there," said Nadia Abou-Karr, a 19-year-old sophomore and resident assistant at a Wayne State dorm.

The downside however, is: "A lot of Wayne State students share apartments because they're cheap, but they're not so cheap anymore," Abou-Karr said.

Scott Lowell, owner of the Traffic Jam & Snug restaurant and the Bronx Bar near Wayne State, said the university deserves credit for bringing back the neighborhood.

"Wayne has been foresightful enough not to close themselves in," Lowell said. "The groundwork for what's going on now across the area was laid by their decision."

Contact KIM NORTH SHINE at 313-223-4557 or [email protected]

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THE NEXT PHASE: Big plans in works to make a cool city

March 13, 2004



Fourth day in a series.

Let's take a tour of Midtown.

First stop: Woodward at the Fisher Freeway to visit the gleaming Motown Center, a shrine to Detroit's soulful musical past.

Next, drive a few blocks north on Woodward to Mack for shopping on the ground floor of the Ellington, a complex of condos and stores that honor jazz great Duke Ellington.

From there, park the car and take the Midtown Loop, a landscaped, paved path lined with businesses, homes and parks.

Now stash these directions in the glove box until next year and the year after that.

Today, none of these things exists in Midtown, a collection of neighborhoods that form Detroit's cultural core and in the future, some say, could become home to the city's hippest, most vivacious locales.

The Midtown of tomorrow will be a place where driving takes a backseat to walking and biking, where parking lots move underground to be topped by shops and where businesses no longer can cover their buildings with painted-on ads and signs.

Some plans have made it no further than a charcoal rendering or an architect's blueprint. Others are set to take off soon.

Whatever happens, the mere mention of development, let alone the dozens of completed projects and more than $796 million in investment since 1998, is a sea change in a part of the city that's hemorrhaged people and businesses for many years.

This 2-square-mile section of the city with Woodward as its spine and Cass, Brush, John R and Warren as its arms and legs, has become home to almost 2,000 new places to live and dozens of new businesses.

An important component of the redevelopment is making storefronts attractive and lining the streets with decorative trash cans, benches, streetlights, trees, shrubs and flowers that put out a giant welcome sign, said Susan Mosey, director of the University Center Cultural Assocation.

The UCCA is a nonprofit urban planning organization that's widely credited with conceiving the complex Midtown redevelopment plan and helping developers navigate the bureaucracy of City Hall and other institutions.

The UCCA will spend more than $7 million on the Loop, a Woodward streetscape, matching grants for businesses that improve their facades and other aesthetic fixes across Midtown.

The City of Detroit will spend millions of dollars, offering grants to fix up facades and pave roads. It also will continue expediting property sales on its tax rolls and backing developments through a special construction fund.

Money also comes from groups such as the Hudson-Webber Foundation, the Community Foundation of Southeastern Michigan, the Knight Foundation and Detroit Renaissance. The state and the Masco Corp. also have chipped in.

A view from almost any corner or street block in Midtown reveals some level of construction or renovation. An art gallery district with a wine bar and outdoor theater, a sculpture garden at the College for Creative Studies and projects for residential, commercial and entertainment use are coming.

"It's happening before our eyes," said Ernie Zachary, a developer who's responsible for the successful Garfield Lofts on Woodward. "All you have to do is look back to look forward. Look at Ferry Street . . . Ten years ago it was a derelict, scary, scary street. It looked hopeless."

Today, a drive down Ferry Street reveals restored Victorian houses that are used as offices, homes and a bed and breakfast. It resembles a quaint Connecticut village.

Colin Hubbell, a developer who's known as one of the first risk-takers to invest in Midtown, said the future is here, and it's going to keep getting better.

Hubbell developed the Canfield Lofts off of Cass in 1998. The condos were the area's trial balloon, and they showed there was a market for city loft living.

"You've got cynics and skeptics. There are always cynics and skeptics," Hubbell said. "People say, 'Is it coming?' I say, 'Is it coming? Well, look around you. It's here.' "

Overall, the object is to make Midtown a place where Detroiters can have the urban living experience that's common in other big cities. "If it's done right, this could be a Chicago, a mini-Manhattan," said the Rev. Stephen Bancroft, dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul.

The church has become an investor in the neighborhood by embarking on major building projects on its own grounds and by making loans to Midtown developers on projects such as the Garfield Lofts.

In the early 1990s, Bancroft helped lead the dramatic turnaround of a Houston neighborhood that had fallen just as far as Midtown Detroit had.

"I'm not a prophet at this point," Bancroft said of the future Midtown Detroit. "But I believed in this 10 years ago when there were no signs of anything happening. There are signs now. Things are happening faster here than they did in Houston. So I'm a still a believer."

Contact KIM NORTH SHINE at 313-223-4557 or [email protected]

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If you refurbish it, they will come

Just as they have many eateries and art galleries to choose from, residents of Midtown Detroit now have an array of choices in housing, from the eclectic to the elegant to places picture-perfect for Metropolitan Home magazine.

"For the city of Detroit, this is an example of what can happen in the Cass Corridor and elsewhere," says Phil Grier, owner and developer of the Waldorf Loft Condominiums. "We'll have a full-fledged, Chicago-style neighborhood before you know it."

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MIDTOWN HOUSING: If you refurbish it, they will come

Condos, townhouses and lofts, some in buildings a century old, are drawing new residents to reborn part of Detroit

March 14, 2004



Just as they have many eateries and art galleries to choose from, residents of Midtown Detroit now have an array of choices in housing, from the eclectic to the elegant to places picture-perfect for Metropolitan Home magazine.

Buyers often get breaks on taxes, mortgages

"For the city of Detroit, this is an example of what can happen in the Cass Corridor and elsewhere," says Phil Grier, owner and developer of the Waldorf Loft Condominiums. "We'll have a full-fledged, Chicago-style neighborhood before you know it." The ideal Midtown resident, says real estate agent and Midtowner Lisa Debs, has an appreciation for unusual, old structures that have been transformed into unique living spaces in a hip urban setting. Having an adventurous bent and a desire to become a city dweller -- and all that entails -- helps, too, she says.

"It can be a struggle living here," she says, noting the lack of businesses such as grocery stores. "But it won't be that way for long. As the people continue to come, the businesses will continue to come."

Though a mix of housing can be found in Midtown, everything from hulking Victorian homes to boxy, low-income apartments, it's condos that are attracting many to the 2-square-mile area north of downtown. Here's a sample of some of what Midtown offers in the way of condos, townhouses and lofts.

The Brownstones on John R

Location: Corner of John R and Adelaide

Billed as: "Luxury brownstones restored to their 1890s splendor"

Style: Six row houses encased in their original facades

Price: Starting at $419,900

Room to live: 2,700 square feet

What you get: Choice of three floor plans. Three-bedroom, two-bath, three-story townhomes set in deep narrow designs with original basements and garages.

Special touches: Entertainment loft, private outdoor courtyards, third-floor private decks with wrought-iron railing, granite countertops in kitchen, GE stainless steel or black kitchen appliances, raised panel Aristokraft cabinets, ceramic tile in all bathrooms, tub with jets and shower in owner's suite, hardwood floors on entire first floor, two-car attached garage, bonus room over garage, fireplace in living room, recessed lighting and privacy fences

Standout feature: Room for a small garden in the courtyard. Beautiful front door entrance.

Background and history: Row house residents often were managers for companies owned or run by the owners of the largest homes in the neighborhood, says Crosswinds Communities salesman Brent Chittenden.

What they're saying: "People who buy here want the historic nature but with the modern conveniences of the 21st Century," Chittenden said.

For more information: www.crosswindsus.com/

michigan/detroitbrownstones/index.html or 313-962-1100.

The Carola

Location: 78-82 Watson, between Woodward and John R in Brush Park

Billed as: A design "with the best of city living in mind."

Style: Nineteen loft-style condominiums in a renovated seven-story hotel from 1912

Completion date: Summer 2003

Price: $149,000-$249,000. Only one left at $220,000.

Room to live: 970-1,650 square feet

What you get: Four units have two bedrooms. The remaining 15 units have one. Two units come with two baths; the remainder have one.

Distressed finishes, including exposed brick walls and beams, are part of the charm. The old-style features are mixed with modern accents like chrome lighting and bottle-glass tinted doors. There are private balconies, secured parking and views of downtown, including the stadiums and the Fox Theatre.

Special touches: Highly customized. Cork and wood floors. Concrete counters are standard offerings.

Standout feature: Electronic lifts are available in two-story garages to allow for ample parking.

Background and history: The neighborhood was once called Little Paris after its collection of French-designed homes.

What they're saying: "We walked in and walked out and looked at each other and smiled. We knew this was it," says seventh-floor resident Denise Tryon. "What we really liked was designing it ourselves."

For more information: 313-832-9000, 313-831-8000 or www.


Palmer Court Townhomes

Location: 5721 St. Antoine

Billed as: The heart of Midtown

Style: Two- and three-bedroom connected townhomes with garages.

Price: Rents range from $784 to $1,053 a month.

Room to live: Two- and three-bedroom townhomes ranging from 1,050 to 1,581 square feet

What you get: All the units have attached garages, central air conditioning, wall-to-wall carpeting and washer-dryer units.

Special touches: Ten units are accessible to people with handicaps.

Number of units: 172

Standout feature: Attached garages, community recreation room and a Tot Lot playground for children

Tax incentives, deals: Forty percent of the units are tax-credit set-asides for low-income housing. Palmer Courts is in an empowerment zone.

Background and history: The project dates to the end of Mayor Coleman A. Young's administration. Developer Ron Weaver got involved in May 2001, and the townhomes were open for business in May 2003. Cost of the project was $18 million.It's mixed-income rental property.

What they're saying: "What we've done with the Palmer Court Townhomes is re-create a neighborhood," says Weaver, developer and president of Management Systems Inc.

For more information: 313-871-4621 or www.detroitmidtown.com

The Waldorf Loft Condominiums

Location: 4120 Cass

Billed as: Innovative structure reuse

Style: Multi-level

Price: The smaller two-story, two-bedroom units start at $220,000. The three-story, three-bedroom units were on the market for around $245,000. There's a $175 monthly condo fee.

Room to live: 1,800-2,400 square feet. There is one lower-level unit left.

What you get: Stainless steel kitchen package, granite countertops, 2 1/2 bathrooms with stone-finished showers, premium hardwood floors and Berber carpeting

Special touches: Two gated parking spaces with remote-control entry and 24-hour video surveillance

Number of units: Four

Standout feature: The condominiums are one-half mile from Wayne State University and a mile from the Detroit Medical Center and College for Creative Studies. The Waldorf has room-top views of downtown, the New Center and the riverfront.

Background and history: Built in 1895, the Waldorf was on the verge of being condemned when Grier bought it for $80,000 in 2000. Over the previous two decades, the building had become a haven for squatters. It doubled as a hangout for drug addicts in the Cass Corridor.

What they're saying: "At $122 per square foot, it's very competitive for the level of finishes you get," says developer and resident Grier.

For more information: Contact Margaret Palmer at 313-832-2286.

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MIDTOWN HOUSING: Buyers often get breaks on taxes, mortgages

March 14, 2004

Prices in Midtown start in the low $100,000s and go as high as $500,000 for penthouses. How do Midtowners afford it?

One bank loan program offers urban renewal mortgages at 1.5 percent below the going interest rate. In addition, many historic properties come with a 12-year, 50-percent discount on the value of the property before renovation.

In some cases, the property was almost useless before renovation so the taxable value is very low. Income has no bearing on eligibility.

"The tax breaks are definitely incentives to getting people to come here," says Richard Buss, executive director of the community investment program for National City Bank.

During the next five years, dozens more Midtown developments are expected to be completed.

Most of the area is in one or more of the federal, state or historic zones that allow for tax breaks and other perks.


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BEFORE: Photo from Crosswinds Communities shows the John R project as work began.


AFTER: Six row houses "restored to their 1890s splendor" and billed as the Brownstones on John R.


There are 172 units in Palmer Court Townhomes on St. Antoine.


The Carola, on Watson between Woodward and John R, has 19 loft-style condos.


Drug addicts once occupied the building on Cass that became the Waldorf Loft Condominiums.


Phil Grier, owner and developer of the Waldorf Loft project, right, chats with Karl Haller of Royal Oak about work on Haller's condo.


"We'll have a full-fledged, Chicago-style neighborhood before you know it," says Phil Grier. "For the city of Detroit, this is an example of what can happen in the Cass Corridor and elsewhere."

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WOW!!!!!!!. I CAN'T WAIT!!!!! :o

Me Either. There is so much going on. There was more too, but I didn't bother to post it, since I'm sure I was the only one on this forum who read the whole thing anyway. LOL. An excellent series of articles!

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