Kresge targets Detroit neighborhood projects with $1.5M support

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Jerry Ann Hebron, 69, and her husband, Billy, 68, both of Detroit, pose in front of their building, the Legendary Red's Jazz Shoe Shine Parlor on Oakland near Owen in The North End neighborhood of Detroit, Saturday morning, May 26, 2018. Motown greats like Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and Aretha Franklin used to practice and play here on the stage in the back of the building. After Red closed the shoe shine and repair business for the day, patrons most likely entered the side door as the business turned into a Speak Easy. The Hebrons are in the process of restoring the building and will continue to provide workforce development training here.

Detroit — The Kresge Foundation has given out the first round of grants in its revamped Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit program, and as with birthday presents, it's the thought that counts.

The money is nice, too: $1.5 million, announced Tuesday and spread among 18 plans and projects aiming to help revitalize neighborhoods in the city. But Kresge is a $3.8 billion operation that invests $160 million a year to move economic and social mountains, and it can find $1.5 million in its other pants.

What's important, the recipients will tell you, is that this isn't a matter of waiting for the overflow from downtown and Midtown to spill across the rest of the 89,000 acres south of Eight Mile.

It's a way, said Amelia Duran of an operation called Garage Cultural, to help assure that "we're flourishing economically in southwest Detroit, too, as all these new investments are being made in our city."

Owner Billy Hebron (not pictured) believes this small door on the rear of the building may have been used to deliver coal that the building was heated with back in the day.

It's a way, said Graem Whyte of Popps Packing, to finish restoring a storefront and attached home on the Detroit-Hamtramck border so locals can barter skills, borrow tools, "and talk to neighbors and see what we have."

It's a way, said Jerry Ann Hebron, to take a weary former shoe shine parlor and speakeasy in the North End district alongside the New Center, a place where Aretha Franklin sang, and "show what's possible in the community."

The Kresge initiative, known to the record 178 applicants as KIPD, debuted with a $5 million pilot phase from 2015-17. The relaunch commits $6 million across three years and features a simplified first round of the application process, an extension of the project completion window from 18 months to two years, and an annual pool of $500,000 to provide technical support and networking help for the grantees.

"We found that they might want to learn more about how to build a volunteer base," said Kresge program officer Bryan Hogle. Or, they needed assistance with design services. Or, in a city where the left hand sometimes doesn't even know there's a right hand, they couldn't navigate the funhouse mirrors at a permits office.

The 18 newly funded projects received up to $35,000 for planning or $150,000 for implementation.

Currently, Jerry Ann and Billy Hebron are storing chairs here from another building they own. They plan to restore this building.

A few stand apart, such as a youth equestrian center called Detroit Horse Power. Most, such as a wheelchair-accessible education center and event space in Jefferson-Chalmers, feature at least some component of community togetherness.

"We really believe that neighborhood leadership is essential," said Hogle, 38, a former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer who lives in Pingree Park on the east side.

"Every neighborhood deserves to have positive things happening," he said, even if it's on a scale too small or too tightly focused to typically attract outside money. The simple goal in a complicated system is that in five or 10 years, "these neighborhoods will be a better place to live."

Duran said Garage Cultural plans to make part of its impact with a modern essential: coffee.

That inspiration came when Cafe Con Leche, near Clark Park, closed two years ago. The shop's last day "felt like a funeral," Duran said. "It became really necessary for us to create a new base for the community to gather."

The replacement will be part of a 3,200-square-foot renovation in a warehouse where Garage Cultural already operates an arts and cultural center. The new cooperative workspace and coffee bar will be called NOIS — both an acronym for Neighborhood Office and Incubator Space, and a salute to its location at Livernois and Otis.

Along Carpenter Street, sculptor Whyte and his painter wife, Faina Lerman, already have their home and studios and an artist residency space in a former meat-packing plant on the Hamtramck side.

Jerry Ann Hebron, 69, poses in front of the building she and her husband, Billy, 68 (not pictured), both of Detroit, own, the Legendary Red's Jazz Shoe Shine Parlor on Oakland near Owen in The North End neighborhood of Detroit, Saturday morning, May 26, 2018.

Across the street to the south, they'll apply Kresge dollars to what they're calling Popps Emporium.

"It'll house a little bit of everything," Whyte said, and then he added the magic words: "for the community."

The Northend Christian Community Development Association is taking on a former home of Red's Jazz Shoe Shine Parlor, with its snapping rags out front and snappy tunes in back.

The second of the five storefronts Red's has called home needs attention from the roof downward, Hebron said. North End needs a space for grassroots retail, local events and occasional performances. When the vacant building came up for sale last year, it was an immediate swipe right.

"We appreciate downtown, Belle Isle, those places," Hebron said. "But I don't want to always have to go downtown for relaxation or entertainment or things like that."

She'd like to see those things within walking distance of her house. So would Kresge — and it can put its money where its footprints are.

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn