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Detroit — Fiat Chrysler's proposed new plant on the east side could lead to a face-lift and other opportunities that leaders and residents who will live in its shadow can't let "slip away," Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Thursday.

“You put 5,000 good-paying jobs across the street, there’s going to be people who want to live in this area," he said. "Which means we need to start to address broken sidewalks, abandoned houses, dead trees, a lot of things.”

In the first community meeting since Fiat Chrysler announced plans to invest $1.6 billion to convert the two plants that form the Mack Avenue Engine Complex nearby, the mayor asked residents how many were concerned about blight and vacant buildings.

As more than half of the nearly 50 guests at Siloam Missionary Baptist Church raised their hands, Duggan said the city is “going to make this area the next priority in demolitions.”

The announcement prompted applause from residents such as Darnell Gardner, an auto worker who has lived near the plant for 60 years. He welcomed the automaker's plans.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” he said. “I for once feel like we’re finally getting the attention we’ve been waiting for.”

Officials held the community meeting Thursday to hear from residents who live closest to the development, which is part of Fiat Chrysler's $4.5 billion investment in five Michigan plants. The city's first new assembly plant in nearly three decades would build the next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee, the automaker said this week. 

 “You’re affected the most,” City Councilman Andre Spivey said.

Under a Memorandum of Understanding between the Detroit and FCA, city officials must assemble land, craft a community benefits agreement and finalize tax incentives.

The community benefits agreement, which adheres to a city ordinance voters approved in November 2016, calls for feedback from residents in the project's impact zone.

A committee is set to be assembled starting this month to work to pursue a plan with a “wish list” from the automaker similar to what residents near the proposed Ford Motor Co. Corktown campus sought, Duggan said Thursday.

“The entire city is going to benefit from this ... We are going to get millions and millions of dollars in income tax revenue,” he said. “You have a right to have a focus on your neighborhood and how we spend it.”

The mayor said he hoped transforming Southeastern High School into a hub for vocational or other training would be explored.

“Could we turn Southeastern into a major employment training center for folks from this side of town?” Duggan told the audience. “Those are the things I hope we get a chance to talk about.”

City officials have 60 days to acquire 200 acres of land and secure City Council approval.

The land is needed to expand the new plant's parking, provide storage for new vehicles, and allow supplier trailers access to the site. The targeted parcels include those primarily owned by the city, DTE Energy Co., the Great Lakes Water Authority and the Moroun family. 

Talks with those owners are "going pretty well," Duggan said. "Most people realize that ... we’re not likely to see this (opportunity) again. So we can’t let this slip away."

Several residents asked Duggan if the expansion and work would mean displacing them.

“We’re not taking anybody’s homes,” he said. “We are not buying anybody’s house.”

Meanwhile, crews are scheduled to start work next week on modifying an adjacent berm, or barrier, said Orza Robertson, senior project manager with the Detroit Economic Development Corp.

Later, as the city closes St. Jean from Kercheval to Warren to reroute traffic away from the plant, officials plan to work with residents on a privacy wall, Duggan said.

Rhonda Theus, who grew up in the neighborhood and returned several years ago to live in her family home, welcomed the chance to offer feedback. She remembers when the area thrived, and has since launched a community group that has received grants for beautification projects.

“We really need to have a better quality of life,” she said, adding that Duggan’s outreach is “really good because we have a say in what’s going to happen with our neighborhood. Now we’ll be able to have a voice.”

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