Gathering space opens in Detroit's Fitzgerald neighborhood

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — When Stephanie Harbin moved to the Fitzgerald neighborhood on the city's west side 50 years ago, there were restaurants, dry cleaners and a grocery store.  

“It was vibrant,” said Harbin, president of the San Juan Block Club.  

The neighborhood declined as businesses along McNichols closed in the late 1970s and the buildings deteriorated over the years.

Harbin, city officials and nonprofit leaders expressed their hopes Thursday for the neighborhood’s revitalization as they celebrated the opening of Neighborhood HomeBase, a storefront community space on McNichols near Livernois.

The 4,000-square-foot building at 7426 W. McNichols will be home to the Live6 Alliance, an economic development organization started in 2015 and supported by the Kresge Foundation and University of Detroit Mercy.

“We are excited about what’s taking place at the HomeBase, and we appreciate this wonderful building that was once abandoned,” Harbin said of the former tuxedo shop. “You would not believe from what you see of this beautiful design that has been created for this building.”

Kresge has granted Live6 $2.8 million since the organization started, which includes design, renovation and furnishings at Neighborhood HomeBase. The space features couches for residents to relax by large windows, tables and a photo gallery featuring images of residents in the neighborhood.

From left, Chazz Miller, community artist for Live6, and Melinda Anderson of Detroit paint wooden butterflies that will be hung on abandoned houses, buildings and lots in the neighborhood, at Live6 Alliance’s new Neighborhood HomeBase.

“It’s both sobering and inspiring because these steps that a community needs to take are at the same time both very small and very big,” Kresge Foundation President Rip Ranson said. “They’re small in that it’s a small space on a long avenue, but they’re huge in terms of their potential to ignite a different sense of hope. A different sense of possibility.”

Mayor Mike Duggan said the development of the Fitzgerald neighborhood represents focusing on an area of the city that once felt forgotten. Last summer, the city celebrated the opening of the Ella Fitzgerald Park and Duggan said streetscape work is coming to McNichols and Livernois.

A view of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center work space inside the Neighborhood HomeBase center.

“We’re doing this with input from the neighborhood,” Duggan said. “But the one thing this area has lacked is a central community gathering space. A place where people can see what’s going on but also offer their input and what they want to see because if we’re going to bring this community back, it has to be from the vision of the people who stayed.”

Live6 will hold office hours during the day, and the space will be available for events during the evening, said Cecily King, executive director of the Live6. Residents are welcomed to make use of the community space.

“It could be community access to WiFi, reference and resources. We’ll probably have a couple laptops to borrow," she said. “You could walk over and stop by.”

The Fitzgerald neighborhood has seen other investment in the area in recent years. This week, Detroit-based developers Century Partners and the Platform marked two years since they began the Fitz Forward project, which will transform more than 300 parcels and more than 100 vacant houses in the neighborhood. That partnership involves the City of Detroit and Detroit Land Bank Authority.

Stephanie Harbin, president of the San Juan Block Club, gives her remarks during the press conference.

To date, Fitz Forward says it has developed and sold five previously abandoned homes, completed three others and has four under construction.  

The business community is expected to grow in the area, King said, with several projects in the works for various vacant buildings along McNichols. She declined to reveal plans but says it will impact a three-block stretch surrounding the HomeBase office.

Harbin says she hopes that the development in the neighborhood will lead to more resources for residents, such as employment and access to funds to repair their homes.

“My goal is for people to feel as though they’re accomplishing something along with all of this change,” she said.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN