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Demolition starts on former DeHoCo site in Plymouth

The Detroit News

Demolition of the former Detroit House of Corrections facility in Plymouth Township started this week, launching a push to potentially redevelop the site, Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority officials announced Tuesday.

The Michigan Land Bank, part of the state Department of Talent and Economic Development, is spending about $1.87 million to bring the buildings to grade level on the 45-acre site it owns near Five Mile and Beck, the group said in a statement.

E.T. MacKenzie Co. of Grand Ledge was awarded a bid for the project. Officials expected buildings to be razed by early fall, the land bank said Tuesday.

Township Supervisor Kurt Heise said the site needs environmental remediation before development because it was once used as a dump.

“This is an important project for Plymouth Township residents, but also for the entire region,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “This is a site that was vacant for decades. We’ll see immediate benefits as this eyesore is eliminated. But long term, we’re creating an opportunity to boost development not just on this site, but in the surrounding parcels — creating jobs and adding to our tax base.”

Plans call for removing guard towers and razor-wire fences officials believe has deterred economic development there.

“These are preliminary steps, but certainly important steps as we move toward improving the DeHoCo site,” said Roger Curtis, director of the Department of Talent and Economic Development on Tuesday. “We’re removing blight, improving the safety and quality of life for township residents and making changes to help the surrounding area be more attractive to economic development and creating jobs.”

The property called DeHoCo has had a long history in the area.

It replaced a former corrections facility that Detroit built in the 1860s. By 1920, the city had bought about 1,000 acres of land in Northville and Plymouth townships for about $30 an acre and established a prison farm. The city completed a $2.5-million maximum-security cell block in Plymouth Township in 1931, according to Detroit News archives.

Among its later inmates was the former Susan LeFevre, who famously escaped in the 1970s while serving a sentence for selling heroin and spent more than 30 years as a fugitive.

Operations ceased by the late 1980s once Detroit sold the complex and surrounding acres for millions.

In 2001, the city put up its remaining 860 acres for a multimillion-dollar bid, The News reported. In 2007, township trustees approved the $2.5 million purchase of 153 acres of the farmland from the Detroit after a private developer’s $3.8 million deal collapsed.