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U of D Jesuit board OKs buying shuttered Detroit rec center

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — A potential historic designation for the Johnson Recreation Center did not hinder the U of D Jesuit Board of Directors from agreeing to move forward with its purchase of the building and neighboring park from the city of Detroit. 

Following a board vote Tuesday evening, U of D Jesuit High School and Academy officials expect to close in February on the $625,000 purchase of the property at 8550 Chippewa.

The Johnson Recreation Center, vacant since 2006 due to budget cuts, seen here in Detroit.

Renovations of the long-vacant recreation center and Joe Louis Park are part of the school's $7.5 million project to improve its athletic and service programs. 

"Since the late 1800s, the school has been committed to the City of Detroit through education and community involvement," said Jim Adams, spokesman for the school.

"The purchase and restoration of this park and recreation center allows us to further that commitment with our neighbors. Additionally, we look forward to creating a permanent historical exhibit inside the center, which will visually document the rich history and achievements of the community."

The board's vote to close on the sale comes after Theodore G. Munz, president of U of D Jesuit, expressed concerns earlier this month as the city council approved a study to determine if the recreation center and park meet the criteria for historic designation. Tt could take about a year for a completed study. 

Areas with a historic designation are subject to Detroit Historic District Commission approval for modifications such as exterior paint color changes, sign installation and masonry reconstruction. Historic district designation does not regulate interior design or building use, according to the city.

Adams said the board discussed the potential historic designation and decided to move forward with the purchase based on recommendations from its finance committee. 

The school plans to renovate the 20,500-square-foot building with an updated gym, locker rooms and meeting rooms. Improvements also are expected for 10½ acres of open space, including three new competition-grade soccer and lacrosse fields.

As part of a voluntary benefits agreement, U of D Jesuit agreed to make the center available to neighborhood associations and hold a series of community service projects with U of D Jesuit staff and students.

Arthur Jemison, the city of Detroit's group executive for Planning, Housing and Development, said the city is pleased the U of D Jesuit board is moving forward with the  redevelopment project. 

"The fact that the school will incorporate so much of residents' input shows its commitment to being a good neighbor and proceeding in a way that respects the historic nature of the surrounding community," he said. "We are going to work very closely with the Historic District Advisory Board, the community and the school to help ensure the historic study approved by City Council and the development itself have positive outcomes for residents.”

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN