Detroit to showcase art and heritage of Russell Woods, Nardin Park
Detroit — The city of Detroit seeks to showcase the memories and music of one historic neighborhood in west Detroit with plans for park updates and a strengthened retail corridor presented to residents Thursday.
The projects in Nardin Park and Russell Woods are part of the city's Strategic Neighborhood Fund, an initiative to reinvigorate areas outside downtown and Midtown with the help of philanthropic dollars. The neighborhood, once home to the Supremes and other influential artists, is one of seven the city identified to attract investment.
"We listened to this community over the last 12 months to really kind of understand what is the most important thing for them right now based on the money we have," said David Walker, design director for Detroit's western region. "We're really celebrating their arts, their culture, their heritage, which residents have defined to us over and over again how important it is."
That includes removing blight and activating vacant lots with programming. It means creating gateways into the historic neighborhoods and infusing parks, commercial buildings and crosswalks with art.
All are projects that residents will see come to fruition in the next couple of years. Funds will come from city grants, the 2017 $125 million road bond and philanthropic dollars from at least one of seven corporations that have committed to revitalizing a Detroit neighborhood.
Community meetings to implement upgrades as soon as the first quarter of next year to Zussman Park at West Davison Street and Dexter Avenue are beginning Thursday evening. The park will receive a new basketball court moved to make room for a larger entry plaza with artistic sidewalk designs.
"We’d like to see something highlighted there, something new there to kind of highlight the park as the front door of the neighborhood," Walker said.
The Michigan Department of Transportation will add a traffic signal there to accommodate pedestrians better, and the city also will add small hills along the seven-lane Davison to create a sound buffer. Trees and a picnic area will be added, too, along with new play equipment.
Turn the corner onto Dexter Avenue, and efforts will be made to restore the retail corridor there. The city estimates the node has the potential to support nearly $70 million in retail.
Although a few small businesses populate the street — a cleaners, liquor store and some auto-related shops — the city wants to activate starting later this year some vacant lots it owns with colorful, boxy installations to hold small markets, food truck rallies and other events to bring people to the avenue as a signal of what the corridor could become.
"We know it's going to take some time for new development, new construction, things like that," said Briana Mason, a city urban planner leading the Nardin Park/Russell Woods project. "So what we’re recommending to residents is trying to do this pop-up to enhance the neighborhood and support local businesses."
Between Glendale and Sturtevant avenues, bike lanes will be condensed with added protection to one side of the five-lane road. Crosswalks will get a splash of color, as well, and the city will install a gateway at Leslie Street into the historic Russell Woods neighborhood. Only one sign at Davison and Broad Street designates it as such.
Four local artists — Bak Pak, Ijania, Sheefy and Perez — have been hired to paint murals on building walls along Dexter as part of the city's City Wall initiative, as well. Community members can meet the artists and provide their input later this month.
Murals and possibly other wayfinding installations also will point to the neighborhood's history.
Supremes Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson all resided here. Poet and publisher Dudley Randall and composer Brazeal Dennard also called the neighborhood home. There are more than 30 historic sites, as well. Gold World Records, which Motown Record Corp. acquired, had a studio at Buena Vista Street and Dexter. The neighborhood was home to the influential African-American bookstore owned by Ed Vaughan that was destroyed in the 1967 riots. Automotive Hall of Famer Ed Davis' Studebaker dealership is now the site of the local recreational center.
"We're changing these places into something the community can be proud of," Mason said.
For Robert Rucker, 66, who owns property in Russell Woods and Nardin Park, it feels like a new chapter for his community: "It's different. They're finally coming into the neighborhoods and fixing up the neighborhoods instead of downtown, Midtown and the Illitch properties. I just want a nice neighborhood for whites, blacks, Hispanics, where we can all enjoy."
Bea McBride, 64, who lives at the edge of Nardin Park, however, worried not enough was being done for the residents who had stayed.
"It's all window dressing," McBride said. "It's all to bring new people into the neighborhood, to bring more income into the neighborhood, but you still have not done one thing to address the people who are already here. As they say, there's two Detroits, and we're in the second Detroit."
A demolition strategy is in the works for Nardin Park, which has nearly 700 vacant buildings. More than 300 are boarded up. The city owns 1,300 lots in the community. Mayor Mike Dugan recently proposed a bond to fund all remaining residential blight removal by 2024.
The Detroit Land Bank Authority's Rehabbed and Ready program has identified 10 homes along Russell Woods' southern Cortland Street that it will makeover and sell this year. Additionally, the authority and Detroit's Housing and Revitalization Department are planning a strategy in Nardin Park along Elmhurst Street to renovate two-, three- and four-family homes in 2021.
Having seen residents leave Nardin Park over the past decade, resident Nrena Hunt, who works with the Nardin Park Improvement Rock community organization, said it is exciting to hear that people could move into the community again.
"A lot of them are vacant, to rehab those and bring tenants, bring them back to life so to speak, that's very exciting to have some new vitality into the area," Hunt said. The initiatives announced Thursday will complement her group's collaboration with the University of Detroit Mercy to activate vacant properties for yoga and Taiji classes and urban gardens, she said.
Seven major companies have committed each $5 million over five years to the Strategic Neighborhood Fund to adopt a neighborhood. The contributors include Chemical, Fifth Third, Huntington and Flagstar banks, as well as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. and Penske Corp. Funding also has come from the Ford and Kresge foundations and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The city is rolling out plans for the seven neighborhoods supported by this money in the coming months. The Planning and Development Department also has presented final plans to residents in Grand River Northwest, Jefferson Chalmers and Campau/Banglatown neighborhoods.
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.