Developer 'cares a whole awful lot' about Woodbridge

Marney Rich Keenan
The Detroit News

One night in 2012 Alex Pereira, a real estate developer, and his wife, Sarah, were watching the movie "The Lorax," based on the children's book written by Dr. Seuss. Lorax is a creature concerned for the environment who is trying to prevent the trees from being overtaken by the forces of greed.

Pereira was immediately struck by Lorax's famous quote: "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

At the time, Pereira had just begun rehabbing his first of several residential buildings in the Woodbridge community near Grand River and Rosa Parks. He told his wife he wanted to name the dwelling on 4759 Trumbull The Lorax.

"I just thought it was so representative of the vision I had for this community," Pereira said early this week. "You have to care in order to see change."

At first, Pereira said his wife said he was crazy. But she's not saying that anymore.

Pereira is now the owner of three homes in Woodbridge, with plans underway to purchase two more. Each of the homes are given special attention to historical preservation, combined with an emphasis on energy efficiency.

"I firmly believe in (real estate developer) Dan Gilbert's motto: 'Do well by doing good,' " Pereira said. "For so many decades, Detroit had fallen into apathy. It's only now that we've started to see the turnaround really become a movement. It's very meaningful progress."

The homes also are fashioned after children's stories that Pereira said reflects the enthusiasm and positive vibe from the city's comeback.

"I wanted them to be in stark contrast to the drabbiness that exists in much of the city."

Adventurous homes

The Lorax house was purchased at a Wayne County tax auction in 2012 and Pereria spent over a year gutting and rebuilding the century-old building. It had been vacant for 15 years and was collapsing in on top of itself. The interior had extensive wood rot.

"Literally, the only thing that's original in the building are the four perimeter walls and half of the historic staircase," he said. "Everything else had to be complete re-framed."

Now the five-unit Lorax House is a fully occupied, energy-efficient building with three one-bedroom apartments, a studio and living/work space with a commercial art gallery attached. A mural painted on a retaining wall features Lorax's famous line about caring and a wooden sculpture of the Seuss character carved by chainsaw sits prominently on the front lawn.

Pereira's latest project on 4722 Avery was purchased for $87,100 from the Detroit Land Bank Authority in May 2014. The historic home built in 1881 is undergoing a $150,000 renovation. The three-story home is split into three flats with two two-bedroom units and a one-bedroom apartment.

Named "The Up House," it is modeled after the house from the 2009 3-D computer animated Disney film "Up." Painted in light blue, yellow and fluorescent green, a sign affixed to the white picket fence reads "The Spirit of Adventure" and depicts a house flying up in the sky via a thousand helium balloons.

"I wanted it to be bright and cheery, my tribute piece to the city of Detroit," Pereira says. "Hence, the Spirit of Adventure. An old gentlemen who had kind of given up on life meets this young new kid and they go off on this great adventure. I can't see a more befitting story that parallels what is going on in Detroit."

Story of success

Pereira's life story is something of an adventure. Born in Bolivia, his family emigrated to the U.S. when he was 9. The 35-year-old was raised in Dearborn Heights, got his undergraduate degree from New York Institute of Technology and recently earned his MBA from the University of Michigan. He started his real estate business, Secure Realty, in 2008, focusing on properties in the suburbs until he discovered the Woodbridge area in 2012.

"People were always talking about Corktown, Midtown and everything happening at the Riverfront, but the second I got here, I realized this one of the city's best-kept secrets."

His wife, Sarah, who also recently got her MBA from Michigan State University, is a finance analyst at Ford Motor Co. and is the real estate development company's co-owner. Receiving top billing these days is their infant son, Diego, born more than three weeks ago on Feb. 3.

"He is the hardest and most rewarding project yet," Pereira said.

Pereira said he plans to continue developing properties in the Woodbridge community.

"I'm living the true American dream," he says. "I have my parents to thank for their sacrifice. It just goes to show you if you work hard, and you're smart and you have capacity, doors can be opened."