$10M redevelopment begins at vacant St. Charles school

Jennifer Chambers, The Detroit News

Detroit — St. Charles, a vacant Catholic school on Detroit’s lower east side, will rise again after a $10 million renovation converts the vacant building into 25 residences and adds 10 apartments next door.

Participants take their places in a ceremonial ground breaking for renovation to the historic St. Charles school in Detroit on Monday.

Calling it the “grand jewel” of his investment company, Banyan Investment CEO Aamir Farooqi broke ground Monday afternoon alongside Mayor Mike Duggan and others at the project site, where plans call for luxury units to have high ceilings, large windows and an abundance of outdoor space.

Common spaces are planned between the units as well as a community center in the Islandview neighborhood near West Village.

“We have a vision of the neighborhoods in Detroit that we can rebuild this city in a way that is unique,” said Duggan, who lives near the project. “We’ve seen this so many times before, a school closes and scrappers come in. ... In this case Aamir said there is value here, and we can restore it.”

Officials with the developer hope the project will serve as an anchor in West Village and become a connector to the surrounding community that includes Belle Isle, Indian Village and Grosse Pointe.

The project, which is expected to take 12 months to build and has national investors, signals more investment in the city’s long-neglected neighborhoods, residents said.

“The neighborhood is coming to life again. It’s beautiful to look at and knowing it’s growing and it’s not downtown,” said Cherie Steele-Sexton, an Indian Village resident, said.

What’s needed next, Steele-Sexton said, is for the neighborhood schools to come back.

Collen Robar, a St. Charles parishioner, said so many developers have pitched ideas for the abandoned school, which has water damage inside and broken windows.

“This one looks like it’s really going to happen, and that is very exciting,” Robar said. “We are looking forward to being good partners with them.”

On display at the project site Monday were architectural renderings of the project and members of the design and development team.

The church closed the school decades ago, citing dwindling enrollment. In the late ’90s, the building sold for $350,000 to the Detroit Public Schools. Since 2000, the building has changed ownership several times in the wake of failed development projects. And in 2009, during the Great Recession, the building fell into foreclosure.

The building was sold in 2014 for $1,000. Later that year, Banyan bought the site for $50,000.

Florist and business owner Kelley Jones said so many people told her to take her flower business outside the city to be successful, but she just would not listen them.

After arranging flowers in her garage for 23 years, Jones moved into a Banyan-developed store front on Kercheval near Van Dyke in 2015 that she calls “Goodness Gracious Alive.”

“I’m for Detroit. Don’t ever count us out,” she said


Staff Writer Louis Aguilar contributed.