March 2, 2007 at 1:00 am

Paradise lost? Memorial park delayed

DETROIT -- A park to honor the city's former Paradise Valley area was to debut this year, but the project still hangs in the balance -- more than $2 million is still needed, ground hasn't been broken and a final design doesn't exist.

The Paradise Valley Commemorative Park intends to pay tribute to the thriving African-American entertainment district that catered to blacks who were shunned by white establishments from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Paradise Valley became a magnet for national celebrities, such as Sammy Davis Jr. and Cab Calloway, who wanted a cool place to eat and hang out. But the area, like the Black Bottom neighborhood where many African-Americans lived, gave way to urban renewal. A freeway, housing and other projects aimed at invigorating the city chopped into the areas until they no longer existed.

In 2003, city officials announced that the $2.5 million park would be completed this year.

People who remember Paradise Valley are upset by the delays and wonder why it is taking so long. Detroit Economic Growth Corp. project manager Malik Goodwin acknowledges that the pace is slow, but said officials are trying to get it done quickly.

"We are currently in design," Goodwin said "It is moving slower than we would like."

The City Planning Commission and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. have teamed with the Detroit Lions, Downtown Detroit Partnership and area museums to plan the park.

The Ford family donated slightly less than one acre, a parking lot that is bounded by Madison, Beacon, St. Antoine and an alley near Ford Field.

Ford Field sits on the site of the former 606 Horseshoe Club, a popular Paradise Valley nightspot. The Fords also have pledged $100,000 for the project, said Lions communications director Risa Balayem.But there is no timetable for the park's construction, Goodwin said. Goodwin blamed bureaucracy for some of the delay. City officials must sign off on contracts, designs and the like. Without money in hand -- other than $400,000 in city recreation bond money and the Ford pledge -- designers have to come up with different design ideas, he noted. Goodwin would not say how much the ideas cost and he refused to share the project's renderings, which makes it difficult to explain how the $2.5 million would be spent.

That angers Beatrice Buck, a 76-year-old Detroiter who remembers the area and has written and staged a musical about it. She lives in Lafayette Park, which rests in the area that used to be part of Black Bottom.

"They have been working on it for four years. I could have had four babies in that time," said Buck, a member of the Paradise Valley Historical Society, which initially had input on the park's planning. "They are not doing anything to raise money."

Zeline Richard, also a member of the Paradise Valley Historical Society, said she is concerned about the slow progress. She modeled hats in the 1940s for a local designer at the Club 666.

"It is at a standstill," the native Detroiter said of the progress. "I am concerned but I have always believed that you can win if you keep trying."

Detroit architectural firm Hamilton Anderson and Associates is designing the park. Hamilton Anderson officials referred inquiries to Goodwin. Planning Commission director Marcus Todd Jr. did not return calls.

Goodwin said the park's design calls for a reflective atmosphere, which would include exhibits where visitors can learn about Paradise Valley's impact on Detroit's history. Interactive displays would encourage people to think about the area's past and its impact on the city, he said.

It will also include an intimate setting where people can eat lunch or chat with each other without intruding on others in another portion of the park.

Goodwin said he understands the frustration that has resulted from the slow process. He said officials also want to see the park built as soon as possible.

"You want to do it right," Goodwin said. "You don't want anybody to feel slighted."

It is too late for that, said Herbert Metoyer, a 71-year-old Southfield man who helped compile "Paradise Valley Days," a book of stories about the area.

"The value of it is apparent," he said. "They are dragging their feet. What other excuse could it be? It must have seemed only important to black folks."

You can reach Santiago Esparza at (313) 222-2127 or sesparza@detnews.com">sesparza@detnews.com.

Detroiter Beatrice Buck, 76, remembers Paradise Valley and has written and ... (Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News)
The Ford family donated a parking lot near Ford Field for the Paradise ... (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Beatrice Buck is surrounded by souvenirs of a lifetime dedicated to the ... (Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News)
A concession stand at Ford Field, which is on the site of a former club, ... (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)