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Agency helps revitalize city's aging buildings

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Lithuanian Hall near Vernor and W. Grand Blvd. is under consideration for redevelopment. The project is part of a $50-million effort in the area.

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The hall was built in 1921 by the neighboring St. Anthony Catholic Church.

Agency helps revitalize city's aging buildings

Southwest Solutions turns vacant structures in Detroit into apartments, condos and offices.

By R.J. King / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Vacant for 15 years, the former Lithuanian Hall along Vernor Highway in Detroit offers another opportunity for Southwest Solutions to revitalize an aging building into a new use.

Since 1997, Southwest Solutions, a nonprofit development agency in Detroit, has helped renovate more than a dozen vacant buildings into apartments, condominiums, storefronts and offices. The projects, centered in southwest Detroit, are part of a $50-million revitalization effort that has added more than 300 residences and businesses in the area.

"By adding residences in once-vacant buildings, we can maintain the area's rich architectural history while bringing more business to the surrounding stores and restaurants," said Tim Thorland, Southwest Solutions' housing director. "We want to see our streets lined with activity."

The group will present its vision for redevelopment in the area tonight during a planning session inside Lithuanian Hall, located near Interstate 75. The presentation will include a computer-generated tour of the area and offer prospective building sites for homes, stores, restaurants, offices and parks.

"We do see the potential for adding a hotel with some convention space," said Dennis Quinn, executive director of Great Lakes Capital Fund, a Southwest Solutions' affiliate. "There is a need for large meetings in our area, but we often go elsewhere because we don't have the facilities here."

While the hotel may be built over the next 10 years, Quinn said it doesn't hurt to plan now for future growth. He cited the Lithuanian Hall as an opportunity to host smaller events.

The two-story, 15,000-square-foot Lithuanian Hall was constructed in 1921 by the neighboring St. Anthony Catholic Church. Plans are to renovate the brick structure into shops and eateries on the main floor while adding offices in a second-floor theater space.

The offices, or work stations, would likely be built on wheels so the partition walls could be folded and set against the walls, noted Thorland during a recent tour. "That way we can host events here and still offer office space during the work day," he added.

Angela Zemboy, executive director of Community Legal Resources in downtown Detroit, a nonprofit group which pairs lawyers with community groups to help drive economic development, said the southwest area of the city has experienced a strong housing boom due to an influx of Hispanics and others in recent years.

"You've seen large automakers and suppliers build or contribute to manufacturing operations in southwest Detroit, and the resulting jobs have attracted workers from Mexico and elsewhere," Zemboy said.

Community Legal Resources recently acquired 30 state-owned homes in southwest Detroit and sold the residences to low- and moderate-income families. Other community groups have contributed to southwest Detroit's revitalization, including Mexicantown Community Development Corp. and Southwest Detroit Business Association. In turn, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has created an Office of Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization (ONCR) to assist nonprofit groups in improving five neighborhood districts in the city, including southwest Detroit.

You can reach R.J. King at (313) 222-2504 or rjking@detnews.com.

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