Bedrock seeks 900 units, retail at former Brewster-Douglass project

The Fredrick Douglass Development Project involves developing roughly 22 vacant acres near Brush Park’s southern end “into several mixed-income residential projects providing over 800 units, along with the construction of various other commercial, retail and public space components."

Detroit — Dan Gilbert's real estate firm is proposing a $300 million development for the site of the former Brewster-Douglass housing project that envisions about 900 housing units, green space and retail.

Bedrock said Thursday the proposed neighborhood spans 22 acres and would feature a mix of for-sale and rental units with town and carriage homes, flats, walk-ups and apartments. 

The project would be constructed in phases over five years beginning with an environmental assessment of the land that officials hope gets underway this fall, said Steve Ogden, Bedrock's vice president of government affairs. 

"This is a particularly great reuse of a significant site that used to stand in that same footprint," Ogden said of the plans for the Brewster land. "This truly is what people envisioned when they talk about a neighborhood. It's a mix of incomes, it's a mix of people and that's our vision for this site."

Owned by the Detroit Housing Commission, Brewster-Douglass was the largest residential housing project in the city before its demolition in 2014. The site sits in an area bounded by Beaubien to the west, Chrysler Service Drive to the east, Wilkins and Alfred to the north and Winder to the south.

Detroit's City Council on Tuesday is slated to vote on a development agreement for the project and a corresponding commitment from the city's administration that would kick in $10.2 million, which will support affordable housing and infrastructure.

That funding includes $6 million in federal HOME funds for affordable housing for low-income households, $3 million in federal community development funds and $1.2 million from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

The city's Housing Commission previously agreed to sell the property near Beaubien to Douglass Acquisition Co., an affiliate of Bedrock, for $23 million.

The deal was approved by the housing commission's board last month. It must now gain final approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That's expected near the end of 2018, said Richard Hosey, who heads Detroit's housing commission.

With the sale proceeds, the housing commission will invest in existing public housing, preservation and renovation of other affordable housing units throughout the city, and construction job training initiatives for Detroit residents. The city's commission has about 3,800 public housing units and manages about 6,000 Section 8 vouchers, Hosey said. 

"This chunk of capital allows us to go out and hit that strata of affordable housing development that's often not really pursued," said Hosey, adding the funding will help the commission buy more properties and with upkeep of its existing portfolio.

Plans for the Brewster-Douglass site come years after the housing project was demolished in 2014.

The effort is a joint venture between the Detroit Housing Commission, Bedrock and its development partners, which include the national public housing development firm Jonathan Rose Companies, an adviser on the effort, Ogden said. The company's other partner is the developer Woodborn Partners, which will handle the sale of some of the units within the project.

Bedrock and its partners discussed the plan during a Detroit City Council subcommittee session on Thursday, hours after a separate, three-project development worth $102 million was unveiled in the city's Brush Park area just north of the Brewster-Douglass site. City officials note the Brush Park plans also are designed to cater to a mix of incomes.

Those developments, along with the nearby Brewster-Douglass housing project, are part of a five-year plan to bring 1,800 new units with more than a third permanent, affordable housing, officials said.

The Douglass master plan also proposes more than 3.2 acres of open space,18,000 square feet of retail space, more than 1,100 parking spaces, an early childhood education center and a small hotel, according to documents provided Thursday.

The is the site of the former Brewster-Douglass project in Detroit on Thursday.

Bedrock officials on Thursday said 70 percent of the housing will be rentals and the remaining 30 percent of the units will be for sale.

The acquisition company is committing that 156 units — or 25 percent — of the total rental units at the site be affordable for 30 years, in accordance with Bedrock's Affordable Housing Agreement with the city approved by Detroit's council in July 2017.

About three acres of park space will be scattered throughout and the project will likely feature neighborhood resources such as a healthcare clinic, Ogden said. 

Although the project does not fall under the city's new community benefits ordinance, the company has committed to voluntarily provide benefits. The ordinance guarantees residents and contractors in Detroit receive benefits from developers of major projects or those who seek certain tax subsidies. 

Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland, during the committee session on Thursday, asked the development team to provide written commitments for community benefits.

"Is there anything that you can provide us that would help us have a little more comfort with what you are voluntarily getting into with your commitments?" Leland asked Ogden, who told Leland that Bedrock will draw up something similar to what it did for its City Modern development nearby in advance of Tuesday's meeting. 

"The (benefits) piece is crucial to me to be open and transparent," Leland said. 

The developers will designate 20 percent of the units as affordable for those that earn 80 percent of the area median income. Depending on the type of credits they get from the state, they could offer options ranging from 60 percent to 30 percent of the average median income, which would be an income for a single person in the teens, Ogden said.

For 80 percent, the average median income for one person is $39,760 and rent can't exceed $994 a month. For 60 percent, the average income is $29,820 and rent can't exceed $745, according to state housing data.

Bedrock had been named in a five-year plan the city released in 2016 announcing a joint venture to control 1,000 units of housing on the site as well as parts of Detroit's Eastern Market.

At the time, a Bedrock-led team was designated to redevelop the site through a Choice Neighborhoods grant application with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Detroit was not awarded a Choice grant, but the housing commission and the city said they intended to evaluate other public housing and eligible rental-assisted properties for the program.

Bedrock has said that it plans to develop 3,500 residential units in the city with 20 percent as affordable housing for those that earn 80 percent of the area median income over the next several years.

Ogden said after the committee session that it's critical for the Brewster-Douglass project plan to gain approval from the council now so the development team can begin its preparation of applying for low-income housing tax credits from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Applications can be made in the spring and fall, and the soonest Bedrock will pursue the tax credit would be April, he said.

"We have a lot of work to do or we'll miss that round and be waiting until October," he said. "When the city says 'what's the rush of getting this through.' It's simply for that reason."