Detroit's Greektown seeks to awaken 'sleeping giant' with neighborhood plan

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — Bringing public parks, residential units, retail and increased walkability in Greektown are among priorities area businesses, churches and community leaders say they envision for the neighborhood.  

The Greektown Neighborhood Partnership unveiled those goals Wednesday in a 256-page report called the Greektown Neighborhood Framework Vision.

“Diversification with the addition of residential, retail, community uses and open spaces will create a reciprocity that will activate the district and connect it with broader downtown all while amplifying the businesses that have been here for years,” said Melanie Markowicz, executive director of the Greektown Neighborhood Partnership, previously known as the Greektown Preservation Society.

Traffic travels northbound on St. Antoine, crossing Monroe Ave. in Greektown, Wednesday evening.

The report focuses on five key categories: public realm, mobility and parking, culture and history, development opportunities and neighborhood experience.

Among the priorities include new parks, building on undeveloped surface parking lots, creating a gateway at Randolph and Monroe to connect to the downtown core and streetscape work to improve access to and walkability within the neighborhood.

“Greektown is the sleeping giant in the center of it all,” Markowicz said. “In my mind, I’m seeing this beautiful cultural and historic fabric really being a beautiful complete neighborhood with new infill all connected to the broader downtown community.”

Greektown, an entertainment destination in a 50-acre section of downtown, attracts locals and tourists for its dining and nightlife. Over the years, its authentic Greek dining options have decreased, according to the report. A new generation of venues — including national casual restaurants, nightclubs and traditional American pubs — have moved into the area. No residents live in Greektown, according to the report.

A rendering of some of the proposed changes to the Greektown neighborhood of Detroit.

More than half of the land in Greektown is surface parking lots, Markowicz said. One goal from the plan is to develop several of those lots.

“This neighborhood has been at the service of downtown as a parking asset,” said Aaron May, practice manager for Chicago-based architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which developed the plan.

“One of the things that changes that dynamic is when people ... are starting to want to live and work downtown and eliminate the commute from their lifestyle. Greektown really has an amazing opportunity to fill in that live, work, play dynamic that everyone is seeking to have in the 21st century.”  

Greektown, an entertainment destination in a 50-acre section of downtown, attracts locals and tourists for its dining and nightlife.

The partnership launched the planning initiative in response to the increasing redevelopment downtown and along the riverfront, said John Warner, director of community partnerships for Greektown Neighborhood Partnership. Other projects near Greektown include the eventual development of the former failed Wayne County Jail site on Gratiot.

“Greektown found itself really at the center of some of the highest-profile real estate activity happening in the city of Detroit,” Warner said. “So at the time, we realized that we really only had one option. That was either to raise our voices and set a course for this neighborhood or to essentially get drowned out by the noise and the crowd. We picked the former option.”

The framework plan includes renderings of proposed public spaces throughout the district: St. Antoine Park to sit on a lot between Old St. Mary’s Church on Monroe and the Blue Cross Blue Shield facilities across Lafayette Street; Clinton Park to sit south of Gratiot along upcoming development along the Gratiot Corridor; Beaubien Pocket Park at the corner of Macomb and Beaubien and Randolph Plaza at Randolph Street between Monroe and Gratiot. 

George Teftsis, owner of Red Smoke Barbeque on Monroe, said he’s confident in the plans for the parks will be well executed. He said he'd like to see Greektown's landscape become a visually attractive place to work and visit.

A Detroit Fire Department EMS rig travels slow-time eastbound on Monroe Ave., crossing Beaubien.

“I think it they’re going to do a great job with that,” he said of the park plans. “It does absolutely tie into the aesthetics of Greektown. We want it to be as much of a business district as much as it is a place where you can come enjoy yourself and not spend any money. We want to attract people down here.”

Funding for future projects would come from a variety of sources including grants, private funding and incentives, Markowicz said.

Arthur Jemison, the city of Detroit's group executive for Planning, Housing and Development, said he applauds the community’s effort in being a part of shaping the future of the neighborhood.

“As you look at some of the public realm elements in particular, and you look at the residential opportunities and redevelopments the city is here and excited about working with the alliance to make sure you get the type of development that is shown in these pictures,” he said.

Among the priorities include new parks, building on undeveloped surface parking lots, creating a gateway at Randolph and Monroe to connect to the city's downtown core.

The first project expected to come out of the framework plan will be Randolph Plaza. The street is temporarily sectioned off with planters and will need city and state approval to become a permanent closure.

“The first element of that phased approach will be bringing that area up that is blocked off currently up to the sidewalk level so that it’s a permanent space,” Markowicz said. “It will have a variety of different types of programming, outdoor cafes may be happening.”

Markowicz said she hopes to have the first phase completed within the next year.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN