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Mexicantown Welcome Center to Break Ground

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Mexicantown to offer welcome

Ground-breaking is set for visitor center

October 25, 2003



The welcome mat is finally being laid out in Mexicantown. And this time it's for real.

After 30 years of waiting, hoping and praying, the southwest Detroit neighborhood is expected to break ground Monday on the long-awaited Mexicantown International Welcome Center & Mercado.

The $14-million project will be at Bagley and 20th Street. It is intended to help transform the image of Detroit for visitors who come into the city via the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest commercial border crossing in North America. The Welcome Center is also expected to be an economic development jewel for the largely Hispanic section of a city that is trying to change its image, in part, with bricks and mortar.

Eighty-four new businesses are to be housed in the 45,000-square-foot facility. The Michigan Department of Transportation estimates that 1.7 million travelers will visit the Welcome Center & Mercado by the year 2015.

Michigan has 13 staffed welcome centers throughout the state, and the Mexicantown facility will be the first located in an urban setting. Close to 5 percent of all bridge traffic and about 1 percent of all freeway traffic is expected to stop at the center, according to MDOT's Metro Region Planner Andy Zeigler.

The Mexicantown project is scheduled to be completed by spring 2005.

Once completed, the center will feature an entrepreneurial training facility, an art gallery, several sculptures and an outdoor performance area. The site will also provide visitors with Michigan and Detroit travel information and rest-stop facilities.

"This notion of a world-class city is being realized with this kind of cross-cultural development," Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said recently.

Kilpatrick is scheduled to join Gov. Jennifer Granholm and other dignitaries at the ground-breaking ceremony Monday morning.

The Welcome Center is part of the $100-million MDOT Gateway Project that began studying the possibilities of improving access to the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit freeways and thoroughfares in 1995. Currently, traffic to and from the Ambassador Bridge doesn't connect directly with the Fisher Freeway.

People in Mexicantown hope the Welcome Center will help rekindle the cultural vibrancy of the neighborhood that was divided by the construction of I-75, which opened in stages between 1967 and 1970.

Much of the work that has gone on to make the Welcome Center a reality has been a collaboration on the part of several development groups.

Plans for the Welcome Center were first proposed by two Detroit city councilmen in 1974. Disputes over the displacement of residents and businesses delayed the project. Community members and politicians were also at loggerheads with the International Bridge Co., owners of the Ambassador Bridge, which had expansion plans that included land near the Welcome Center site. Mexicantown Economic Development Corp. and other community groups came together in hopes that the neighborhood would get the most benefit from the multimillion-dollar project.

"This whole thing is about economic development and helping get access for our community," said Maria Elena Rodriguez, who grew up in the neighborhood and is now president of Mexicantown Economic Development Corp.

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

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