Duggan touts planning director, neighborhood development at Mackinac conference

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Mackinac Island — Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan discussed side lot sales, connecting residents to the riverfront and revitalizing city neighborhoods during a keynote speech Tuesday at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

After a 28-month hiatus, the conference resumed this week with a theme of "reimagining a healthy Michigan" at the island's Grand Hotel with fewer attendees and strict protocols.

Duggan, during an hour-long fireside chat in the hotel's grand theatre, gave updates on neighborhood development and introduced Antoine Bryant, Detroit's recently appointed Planning and Development Department director.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan joins a panel with Antoine Bryant, right, recently appointed director of the city's Planning and Development Department, and moderator Lloyd Jackson, Senior News Analyst WJR NewsTalk 760 AM on Tuesday at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Bryant said he grew up in the projects of Brooklyn and was inspired by his environment as it was "abundantly clear that my family, friends, and neighborhoods were never a part of the planning process."

It led him to pursue architecture and design academically and then he was all-in for community development similar to where he grew up.

"I wanted to always give back and had my eye on Detroit for quite some time," Bryant said after joining Duggan on stage. 

The mayor has noted that the corner of Seven Mile and Livernois was known as the destination for high-end clothing and has been redesigned with a new streetscape, widened sidewalks and bike lanes based on community input.

In the last two years, 22 new African American businesses have opened on the strip, and "it is now one of the most vibrant commercial districts," Duggan said Tuesday. 

"It was deliberate that we said 'right now Detroiters are going to downtown Royal Oak, Birmingham, Ferndale, but Detroiters didn't have that experience,'" Duggan said. "So we set out to do that..."

The $17 million redesign wasn't without controversy. The construction project met delays, made navigating the district challenging and limited parking.

Duggan said the project is now being replicated on Kercheval, Grand River, McNichols, and "Antoine is going to replicate it across the rest of the city."

Bryant, in his first eight weeks in the position, said he admires that residents in Detroit will have a say in how the city moves into the future.

"My focus has always been on community engagement because I want to hear from people," said Bryant, who moved to Detroit from Texas. "Additionally, our department is committed to visiting all 200 neighborhoods in this city so each one knows they're being seen, heard and engaged."

Duggan noted the city's progress on offering vacant side lots to neighboring homes for $100. So far, 19,000 homeowners in the city have purchased the sidelot next to them and the next step is turning other vacant lots into neighbor's vision, Duggan said.

The city's Department of Neighborhoods an Bryant, he said, are going to go into city neighborhoods and, with federal grant dollars from the COVID-19 relief package, will revitalize vacant lots with community input. 

Duggan also talked about the implementation of 4,500 speed humps in residential areas. Bryant touted the success of speed humps all over the country saying, "requests are through the roof," because it's providing a safer environment for drivers and families.

More than 60 basketball courts have been rebuilt at parks in neighborhoods across the city.

Duggan also said Tuesday that the city's riverfront was once blocked by concrete silos but it's now connecting to the downtown and soon, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy will expand the link to the Joe Louis Greenway, creating a 26-mile bike loop.

The mayor touched on the impacts of summer flooding and the need for revamped infrastructure. He expects a plan to handle storm water will be rolled out in the coming months.

Duggan also noted that he expects less workers will return downtown after being beat down by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I do think cities around this country are going to see fewer offices," Duggan said, adding U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, has sponsored legislation to provide kickbacks to cities to turn office space into housing. 

Arn Tellem, vice chairman of Pistons Sports, introduced Duggan and the conversation was moderated by Lloyd Jackson, senior news analyst with WJR NewsTalk 760 AM.

Running for a third term

The mayor gave his address before a crowd of political and business leaders just weeks ahead of the Nov. 2 general election. Duggan is seeking a third, four-year term.

Duggan is being challenged by Anthony Adams, a former deputy mayor under Kwame Kilpatrick. 

Last week, Duggan's campaign manager Alexis Wiley told The Detroit News that Duggan will not debate Adams ahead of the election, citing his "hateful and divisive rhetoric."

Adams, 65, has built his campaign on Detroit's crime and poverty rates and launched his candidacy by accusing Duggan of "benign neglect." He insists there is "a clear need for change" following the city's over-taxation of residents and infrastructure failures.

Adams also has attacked Duggan on the volume of foreclosures and water shutoffs the city has endured in recent years, practices in the city's massive blight elimination effort and what he claims is a lack of investment in Black businesses.

►For subscribers: Adams focusing on these Detroit voting groups in bid to unseat Duggan

Duggan posted a blowout victory over Adams in the August primary, setting up a fall election that political analysts have said is "his to lose." The mayor secured 72% of the vote in the Aug. 3 race over Adams, who got 10%.

Adams has said he's targeting young voters and absentees in his bid to unseat Duggan. About 68,400 absentee ballots were sent out Detroit voters this past weekend, according to officials with the city's elections department.

Duggan, 63, has touted a continued focus on building “One Detroit for Everyone."

His strategy includes affordable housing, revival of long-neglected neighborhoods and ensuring every Detroiter — through programs like Detroit at Work — has access to jobs and job training. 

As the centerpiece of his reelection announcement, Duggan unveiled an effort to raise $50 million over five years to help fund a series of programs for Detroiters who have felt "left behind or left out."

The initiative, dubbed the People Plan, encompasses programs to help adults seeking to obtain high school diplomas, skilled trades training and door-to-door support programs.


Twitter: @SarahRahal_