Detroit invests in blight removal for Delray
Detroit — City officials gathered Tuesday in the heart of a long-neglected southwest Detroit community to announce a blight removal program aimed at stabilizing the neighborhood adjacent to a planned international bridge.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, District 6 Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez and a community coalition assembled in a vacant lot on Lyon Street to detail the plan that’s been in the works for the last year.
The effort, crafted with input from Delray residents, calls for 33 dangerous buildings to be torn down and brush from vacant land west of the planned Gordie Howe International Bridge to be cleared.
Castaneda-Lopez said Delray has been ignored by past administrations for decades. As the bridge is constructed, she said, the strategy helps create an area where industry and residents can coexist.
“It’s very sad to see a community forgotten, but I’m very happy to see reinvestment and new energy in the community, and it really is something that’s community-driven by the people who live here,” said Castaneda-Lopez, who spent part of her childhood in Delray.
The $2.1 billion public-private span between Detroit and Canada is to be two miles downriver from the Ambassador Bridge. Scheduled to open in 2020, it will provide a second highway link for heavy trucks at the busiest U.S.-Canada crossing point. Promoters say it will overcome the problem caused by congestion at the 85-year-old, privately owned Ambassador.
Canada is supplying Michigan’s $550 million share of the bridge, which will have to be repaid through tolls.
The state of Michigan gave Detroit $1.5 million last fall in the first part of the land acquisition efforts to make way for the bridge. The City Council voted to have $750,000 of those dollars designated for the Delray community.
Castaneda-Lopez said she hopes to dedicate as much funding as possible — ideally 100 percent of all future land sales related to the bridge — back to Delray in a community impact fund.
The Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition worked with the city to identify the blighted, burned-out and dangerous priority properties that need to come down.
“Things like this always take longer than you hope, but we are so glad it’s our turn today,” said Simone Sagovac, project director for the coalition.
Duggan, who worked alongside Sagovac to identify the greatest needs, said he expects it will be a first step in the revival of the area.
“In a short period of time, the quality of life here — at least the physical appearance — is going to be significantly better,” he said. “This doesn’t solve all the problems but it’s a significant step in the right direction.”
The Detroit International Bridge Co., which owns the Ambassador Bridge, has sought to block the Gordie Howe span and build another next to the Ambassador. A federal judge recently threw out eight of nine counts of a 2010 lawsuit filed by the Moroun family, which own the bridge, challenging the proposed span.
Moroun has spent tens of millions of dollars on legal challenges as well as a failed statewide ballot initiative in 2012 aimed at blocking the new bridge.
In July, Detroit City Council approved a controversial land swap that gives the billionaire owners of the bridge company a portion of Detroit's riverfront land in exchange for the rejuvenated park. The land swap keeps the Morouns’ hopes alive of possibly building a second private span across the Detroit River.