Meet Detroit’s newest council member

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — The lone newcomer to City Council this year is lobbying for redevelopment in his district’s neighborhoods, including the former state fairgrounds, which he says will help restore pride in the community.

Roy McCalister Jr., who took up the District 2 seat after winning the November election, said his goal is to improve the quality of life for Detroit residents. He envisions more restaurants, grocery stores and businesses in the Greenfield and Wyoming areas. The Livernois corridor, McCalister said, could also benefit from commercial expansion.

“It’s about making sure that people feel that they are a part of the movement,” McCalister said. “If they feel they are part of the redevelopment then they are going to be more motivated.”

McCalister wants to give residents a reason to stay in District 2. He also plans to push for redevelopment on the state fairgrounds property, which has been in limbo since 2009 when it closed because of state budget cuts.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s development company, Magic Plus LLC, acquired the 157-acre property from the state for $4.65 million in October 2013, with plans to redevelop it with a movie theater, housing and restaurants. Other developers have teamed up with Johnson’s company to create site plans.

Frank Hammer, a District 2 resident, said he believes the state fairgrounds should be a top priority for McCalister and other council members.

Development on the site is long overdue, said Hammer, 75.

“We think that it’s time for this to be re-evaluated and to possibly terminate the agreement with the chosen developer,” Hammer said. “... To look at development that will work and will be forward thinking and get the backing of investors who want to see a brighter future for Detroit.”

McCalister, a retired Detroit police officer, added he supports the demolition of rundown homes and the restoration of homes with potential. Those projects are a source for job creation in the city, he said. The councilman is also an advocate for job training and apprenticeship programs in Detroit.

McCalister is joining the push to bring an expanded regional transit system to Metro Detroit. Many jobs and medical facilities are located outside the city limits.

“We need that transportation to make sure people are getting to those jobs,” McCalister said.

McCalister plans to be accessible to residents. In January, he held a meeting with the leaders of neighborhood block clubs and community associations to discuss his goals for 2018.

Jim Ward, president of the Green Acres-Woodward Community Radio Patrol, said the meeting showed that the councilman wants to be engaged with the community.

He lauded McCalister for being a longtime activist who was often seen at events advocating for Detroit residents.

“He was doing that even before he was sworn in,” Ward said. “He’s been very active in his own community.”

Resident Hammer said city government should also be focused on job creation in Detroit and enticing young people to remain in the city or move to it.

One month into the job, McCalister already has ordinance measures he plans to introduce to the council. The first is requiring all senior citizen buildings to have generators. During widespread power outages, it is a health hazard for seniors, especially in high-rise buildings, to go without electricity for a long period, he said.

He’s also looking at ordinance language that mitigates drainage fees for residents. McCalister wants to explore ways to keep grass out of the drains during yard work season.

McCalister joined Detroit’s council after spending seven years as an investigator for the Federal Defenders Office of the Eastern District of Michigan. He retired from the Detroit Police Department in 2006 and served as a regional commander for the northern province of Iraq.

McCalister ran for council in three elections before his victory in November.

“I never stopped being involved with the community,” McCalister said. “I tell people, I work for them, they don’t work for me.”

Twitter: @NicquelTerry