Park, schools are focus for Campau/Banglatown neighborhood

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
A rendering of a revamped building at 12449 Conant St. shows the possibility for rehabilitation and new construction.

Detroit — Safer streets, new park activities and affordable housing are the focus of efforts to connect a neighborhood north of Hamtramck to resources, city leaders said Wednesday. The plans are part of a larger move to reinvest in communities outside of the city's downtown and Midtown areas.

The projects are part of the Strategic Neighborhood Fund, a city initiative seeking to reinvigorate areas in the city outside downtown and Midtown with the help of philanthropic dollars. The Campau/Banglatown neighborhood that includes East Davison Village is one of seven the city is targeting to attract new investment. Plans presented to about 100 residents Wednesday seek to better connect the diverse community to parks and schools.

"There are some great strengths in this neighborhood," said Alexa Bush, the city's urban design director for the east region. "They're almost hidden secret assets. We're looking at what can we do to lift them up and connect them better with those different resources."

This rendering of Conant Street at Lawley Avenue shows a revamped streetscape with islands at bump-outs to make crossing the street safer.

After a year of collectingfeedback from residents in the neighborhood, the city put together long- and short-term plans for helping to invigorate the neighborhood.

"Many of these residents haven't felt like they've been heard," said Councilman Scott Benson, who attended Wednesday's meeting. "This is a very diverse community, and everything in this has come from what residents had to say."

The plan emphasizes Jayne Field, the neighborhood park planners hope will be a catalyst for improvements in the area. The General Services Department has done work to upgrade Jayne Field. This year, it will replace the former batting cages with a splash pad and update a pavilion to be used for concessions and possibly pop-up retail.

A $1.6 million second phase would add a second cricket pitch, install permanent soccer fields and update basketball and tennis courts. A new entry to the park off Conant Street, the planners say, also will help with accessibility to the park.

Alexa Bush, left, urban design director for the east region of the city of Detroit's Planning and Development department, talks about changes planned for Jayne Field with Shabina Chowdhury and Abdul Aziz Khandker .

The city plans to invest $1.6 million in a streetscape along Conant between Davison and Carpenter to make it more pedestrian-friendly. This includes creating bump-outs to better define parking and shorten the distance it takes for pedestrians to cross the street. The creation of pedestrian islands also aims to make crossing the street safer.

To slow traffic around the park, speed cushions will be installed along Luce Avenue and Fenelon Street. Campau Street will be resurfaced this summer and efforts made to slow traffic near the park, Bush said.

"There are some very long streets with no cross streets," she said, "so we know people are flooring down Luce, and we want kids to get to the park. There were all these conflicts with getting to these places that slowing down cars was a really big priority."

Mark Rozier, of East Division Village recalled going to the park as a child to play basketball and baseball.

"We were a neighborhood," Rozier said. "We supported each other. We stood up for each other. Everyone knew each other. I think this could help us get back to that."

A number of affordable housing projects are planned, as well. The Greater Detroit Hospital on Carpenter Road will become a 50-unit complex. The former Transfiguration Catholic school on Syracuse Street will undergo a $6.4 million renovation to house 19 residential units.

Mohamad Rahman looks over renderings at a meeting at Frontier Academy in Detroit on March 6, 2019. The meeting showcased recommendations for the Campau/Davison/Banglatown neighborhood through the city of Detroit's Strategic Neighborhood Fund.

Both projects are in the financing stage, though construction on the former school is expected to begin by the end of the year. The hospital site could take longer, Bush said.

Mariam Smith, president of the East Davison Village Block Club, said affordable housing is needed in the neighborhood.

"We don't have enough affordable housing or places for people to live," she said. "This is going to help with that."

A city-owned two-story building at 12449 Conant is up for redevelopment. Bush said a request for proposals from developers is expected in the fall for either new construction or rehabilitation of the building and its side lot.

The Planning Department also is working with Detroit Land Bank Authority programs to encourage homeowners in East Davison Village to buy vacant side lots for $100 each.

The authority is holding an open house for 10 homes primed for rehab in the area north of Jayne Field 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday that will go to auction March 18. Another 79 homes are in the demolition pipeline.

"The goal is to create a density of houses that might get rehabbed and to use some of the existing land bank homes," Bush said. "We've found if you can actually create a whole neighborhood, it's tied to the plan, there are other improvements coming, it might change the calculus from someone (looking for a home)."

These short-term projects are expected over the next three years. The city also plans long-term projects but lacks the funds or programs.

Across from Davison Elementary School is nearly a block of vacant, city-owned properties. The city is working with the school and its parent-teacher association to use that space for an outdoor classroom and parking.

The city hopes to work with the land bank to offer opportunities for residents to lease or buy property that may not be next to them. A program also could bundle a home and up to eight vacant side lots to sell and create comparable selling prices in the neighborhood to encourage mortgages and lending.

The city will stabilize a former school at 13000 Dequindre Street. The city has had offers for the building, but it estimates that rehabilitation will cost $20 million to $30 million and is evaluating if development can happen in phases.

Abdul Aziz Khandker said he is excited for what the plan means for the Banglatown community he helped to organize in 2007.

"We held meetings like this," said Khandker, founding director of the Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee. "And the city heard the ideas, and they took it over and we're so thankful. We're excited to see what happens in our community."

The city is working to raise $100 million by the end of 2019 for the second leg of the Neighborhood Strategic Fund launched a year ago. Funding has come from the Ford and Kresge foundations, seven major companies in the region and most recently a $5 million donation and $10 million investment in low-interest loans from JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Grand River Northwest and Jefferson Chalmers residents have heard the city's final recommendations for their neighborhoods. After Banglatown/Campau, plans for Russell Woods/Nardin Park will follow.

Plans for Warrendale/Cody-Rouge, Gratiot/Seven Mile and East Warren/Cadieux also are in development.

The first segment of the Strategic Neighborhood Fund focused on Livernois/McNichols, Southwest/West Vernor and Islandview/Greater Villages.