Vision for Detroit's Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood: apartments, restaurants, stores

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

A revived Jefferson Avenue corridor with outdoor cafes, pocket parks, greenery and public art is the vision that community leaders have for Detroit's Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood.

Jefferson East Inc. and its development arm, East Jefferson Development Corporation, unveiled Thursday evening its vision in a document called the Jefferson-Chalmers Mainstreet Master Plan.

Plans call for an old liquor store at Jefferson and Manistique in Detroit to be redeveloped with  one level of retail and three levels of residential. Estimated cost for the project, shown here in a rendering, is $12 million to $15 million.

INFORM Studio was the design vision architect for the project led by HLA out of Chicago.

The plan focuses on redevelopment opportunities and corridor improvements designed to appeal to a variety of age groups living in the neighborhood, said Derric Scott, CEO of EJDevCo. 

“By looking at these priority developments across the entire corridor and not just single development, it allows us to start to incorporate this inclusive environment that says how do we make sure that it’s successful by seniors, but also attractive and engaging to other age groups," he said. "How do we make sure that it allows for existing residents to patronize and feel welcomed, but also embracive enough that it attracts regional and outside visitors to come in as well?”

Jefferson Chalmers on the east side of Detroit sits in an area known for its canal-lined neighborhoods, waterfront parks and historic homes. The master plan study included about 70 acres of the neighborhood along the East Jefferson corridor between Alter Road and Lenox Street.

Norma G's restaurant owner Lester Gouvia is eager to see more people in the neighborhood.

Priorities include redeveloping Faith Church and Vanity Ballroom as well as sites at the corner of Jefferson and Manistique, and at Jefferson and Marlborough.

Scott said there are four projects slated to move into construction next year. EJDevCo is working with private landowners and developers to move the projects forward.

♦A development at 14522 E. Jefferson will have 1,800 square feet of retail and three residential units.

♦A site at 14326 E. Jefferson will have 3,000 square feet of retail.

♦A development of 14701 E. Jefferson will bring 40 residential units and 10,000 square feet of retail space.

♦Also slated for redevelopment is an old liquor store at Jefferson and Manistique. The plan is to develop it into one level of retail and three levels of residential. A conceptual drawing shows a multi-story brick building with large windows on the ground floor. It would cost an estimated $12 million to $15 million, according to the plan.

A few years later, Faith Church at 897 Philip St. is envisioned to become multi-family housing. The proposed development concept calls for the adjacent school to become a community center. The estimated cost to rehab the church and school is $23 million to $25 million.

The proposed development concept calls for Faith Church at 897 Philip, shown here in a photograph, to become multi-family housing.

Lester Gouvia, owner of Norma G’s, opened his Caribbean restaurant two years ago at 14628 E. Jefferson. His business sits a block from Faith Church, which is now in the hands of a private developer. Gouvia said he’d like to see more residents move into the neighborhood.

“It would be beneficial to not only the neighborhood, but obviously being a business owner it would bring people closer to my establishment and within walking distance,” he said.

The plan also shows a conceptual image of the historic Vanity Ballroom rehabbed for a mix of entertainment and office use. An adjacent auto repair shop, known as the Schwinn Bike building, would be repurposed as an eatery with outdoor dining and a plaza.

The rehabbing of the historic Vanity Ballroom on East Jefferson, shown here in a rendering, has been a long-time goal for neighborhood boosters.  An adjacent auto repair shop, known as the Schwinn Bike Building, would be repurposed as an eatery with outdoor dining and a plaza. The estimated cost to rehab the Vanity Ballroom is $14 million to $18 million and the Schwinn Bike building is $2.3 million to $3.5 million. The goal is to begin construction on the Vanity Ballroom by 2022.

The estimated cost to rehab the Vanity Ballroom is $14 million to $18 million and the Schwinn Bike building is $2.3 million to $3.5 million. Scott said the goal is to begin construction on the Vanity Ballroom by 2022.

“They’re going to make it much better,” longtime resident Minnie Lester said of the commercial corridor. “It used to be that way years ago. Now they’re going to bring it back.”

The vacant Vanity Ballroom at Newport and Jefferson, photographed here, has been a long-time blight on the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood.

But some residents have expressed concerns. Linda Bowie, who has lived in the neighborhood for 45 years, wants to see development without displacement. 

“We do not want Jefferson Chalmers to go the way of Midtown neighborhoods where so many of the long-time residents have been displaced as a result of the way economic development has reshaped those neighborhoods.” she said. “In other words, with high rents, expensive restaurants and neighborhoods designed for a whiter, wealthier and younger population."

Scott said that the goal is to develop the area without displacing residents, allowing its large senior population to age in place.

The first phase of the Jefferson-Chalmers Main Street Redevelopment Project includes two apartment buildings on Marlborough expected to be complete in the fall and will bring affordable housing to the neighborhood. Of the total 23 units, Scott said the rental rate for 11 units will be based on 50-60% of the area median income.

The former Kresge store at 14300 Jefferson is expected to open in September and will serve as a Jefferson East Inc. neighborhood resource hub.

The master plan also addresses the need for improvements to the area’s landscaping, intersection and crosswalk safety and creating spaces to display public art or to hold events.

It also highlights the need for more on-street parking to accommodate future development. The plan calls for a total of 2,248 parking spaces in the west and east ends as well as the historic core.

Another key element addressed in the plan is the financing for the projects. Proposed projects will cost an estimated $237.2 million and will require special financing and external partnerships, according to the plan.

The area has received public support as one of the city’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund, a philanthropic partnership that helps to redevelop communities throughout the city. Other possible funding sources include local tax incentives, historic tax credits, grants and loans.

“One of the important things for us to do is to not only identify sites that have the ability to move forward because we had control of those sites, but also identify funding sources for each of those to fill in development gaps,” Scott said. “We’re working really closely with a lot of partners including the city of Detroit’s strategic neighborhood fund, our philanthropic partners and thinking about some of the financing tools we have available to us to make sure that those projects can move over the next two years.”

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN