Penske Corp. donates $5M to Jefferson Chalmers through neighborhood partnership

Candice Williams
The Detroit News
Roger Penske, chairman of Penske Corp., center, with Mayor Mike Duggan, left, and Councilman Andre Spivey discusses plans for the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood.

Detroit — For more than five years the Lenox Community Center in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood has sat vacant. Over time, the building has suffered water and property damage.

The center and the park in which it sits will be redeveloped with $5 million Penske Corp. is donating to the neighborhood through the city of Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund and Affordable Housing Leverage Fund Initiative.

Residents, officials with the city and Penske gathered Wednesday for the announcement at Norma G’s.

“We’re very grateful for this $5 million to be invested in such a significant asset in our community,” said Michelle Lee, a neighborhood resident and housing director for nonprofit Jefferson East.

“We need the Lenox center to be active. It will serve many families. … Seeing families and children being able to come into this neighborhood and have somewhere to go and participate in positive activities moving forward we’re very grateful for that.”

Lee said she remembers working in the center when it once housed Easterseals, which held summer programming in the building. In recent years, there have been local efforts to bring activity to the grounds of the vacant building, including butterfly and rain gardens. Each year, the community has a cider social at the Lenox Center Pavilion.

With Penske Corp.'s donation, there's more in store for the community center and Alfred Brush Ford Park, which sits along the Detroit River. 

The company is among six other corporations committing $5 million over five years to city of Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund and Affordable Housing Leverage Fund Initiative.

Mayor Mike Duggan said Roger Penske, chairman of Penske Corp., approached the city to get involved in the neighborhood fund. 

“He was the only one who called us to say, ‘This is my level of commitment.’” Duggan said.

Duggan pointed Penske to Jefferson Chalmers, which he said is “one of the special and unknown neighborhoods in Detroit.”

“To me it’s amazing,” Duggan said. “Beautiful housing, open spaces and land where there used to be houses.

"A river at the south end, a commercial district that’s very underdeveloped at the north end. Abandoned apartment buildings that need to be renovated. You want to talk about an area that has the potential to come back enormously and has never had the resources. You should go check it out.”

Penske said Wednesday that he was amazed at the work already taking place in the neighborhood.

“You folks here obviously on your own collectively have put so much into it yourselves,” he said. “That we could come in as individuals from the private sector, working public and private together.”

As part of the redevelopment, the Lenox Community Center will get a gymnasium.

Most of the improvements to the center and the park will begin March 2020 with a grand opening in September 2020. This summer, the park will receive lighting improvements through city bond funding. The Environmental Protection Agency will contribute to enhance wildlife habitat there. 

Penske is known for his contribution to the city undertaking the Super Bowl XL in 2006. As the head of Detroit's Host Committee, Penske and the committee raised funds and prepared the downtown, which at the time had numerous empty storefronts, for the national event.

Penske said this work in a Detroit neighborhood “gave us a chance to show the community we wanted to give back to Detroit. … We want to be a part of you, want to be with you as partners and family.”

The announcement comes less than 24 hours after the city and state approve Fiat Chrysler's plans to invest $1.6 billion in expanding its Mack Avenue facilities with a new plant and investing $900 million to modernize its Jefferson North Assembly Plant. The plant expansion is expected to add 4,950 jobs.

“This is a pretty good week for this section of Detroit,” Duggan said.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN