Big plans for the future Detroit

April 5, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

A challenging list of projects can reshape city in the next decade

Closing schools creates a smaller, modernized school system

In a sweeping 5-year, $1-billion plan, 41 school buildings and 1 support building are slated for closure in June, with another 13 to be closed by 2012. DPS officials based this redesign in part on Detroit’s changing neighborhoods, comparing areas of growth to areas of abandonment. Here is a look at how those buildings fit onto a map of Detroit’s most vacant areas.ecity-map1

The plan: A smaller but dramatically better system under control of the mayor, with a Standards and Accountability Commission reviewing every school; 54 buildings closed by 2012, 22 new or renovated opening; 70 new schools by 2020, 35 of them charters; a 90% graduation rate by 2020 and 9 in 10 graduates going on to advanced education.

What has to happen: Education reform is critical to the city’s ability to attract and retain families. Basically, the community has to rally around its children. Parents, teachers and other school employees must be engaged to become part of the overhaul. Voter and legislative approval is needed to abolish the school board in favor of mayoral control. Beyond foundation money, Detroit voters will be asked to pass another $500-million bond issue.

Former casino may be new police headquarters

Mayor Bing hopes to move Detroit Police Department headquarters staff out of the antiquated 1300 Beaubien building that dates to 1923 and into a new or renovated structure. At this writing, the best guess among real estate professionals is that Bing will choose the former MGM Grand casino site near Third and Michigan as the new headquarters. That structure has been awaiting a new use since MGM Grand opened its new casino a block to the north in 2007.


Foundation investments

The plan: The philanthropic community is investing tens of millions of dollars in projects for the betterment of Detroit, including schools, neighborhood revitalization, cultural institutions, the riverfront and greenways.

What has to happen: The philanthropic cooperation must be maintained, old issues of distrust between city and suburbs must be erased for the good of both, and some projects have to show results fairly soon to be catalysts for further investment. The nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations willing to put time and money behind their commitments to a better Detroit also have to engage city residents in their plans at every step.

Light rail to link downtown

Iecity-map9-insetn an attempt to link the New Center Area with Midtown and Downtown, a light rail streetcar is proposed for Woodward Avenue.

The plan: Light rail on Woodward, from Jefferson to 13 Mile. Private interests are already lined up for a total of $120 million to build the first leg — 3.4 miles from Jefferson to the New Center. Express buses on Gratiot, Michigan and to the airport. Commuter rail from Ann Arbor to Detroit, possibly from Detroit to Pontiac and even Port Huron and Mt. Clemens. Better basic bus service, with extended routes and increased frequency.

What has to happen: The Legislature must approve a regional transit authority as the governing agency for SMART, DDOT and any rapid-line operations. Washington won’t help unless the region speaks with one voice on its transit needs. An RTA then will have to win a local financial mechanism to operate the system — most likely some kind of regional sales tax that would also require an amendment to the state Constitution.

The demolition plan to improve neighborhoods


Detroit Mayor Dave Bing highlighted his plan to demolish 3,000 dangerous residential structures by year’s end, and 10,000 total by the end of his four-year term. Bing said demolition is only part of a larger plan to strengthen city neighborhoods and improve the use of Detroit’s 140 square miles.

The plan: The city has 78,000 vacant houses, nearly one in five. With population likely to be down around 700,000 by 2020, they aren’t needed. Mayor Dave Bing hopes to have 10,000 demolished by the end of 2013.

What has to happen: Develop a realistic land-use plan that could help secure money from Washington to do even more. Otherwise, target demolition efforts to shore up eroding middle-class neighborhoods, such as Palmer Woods, North Rosedale Park, the University District and Boston Edison.

Greening the city with urban farms


The city is studying multiple proposals to expand urban agriculture in Detroit, using some of the city’s vacant land. The three areas on the map show some of the areas suggested as possible locations for larger scale food production in the city.

The plan: The city, private foundations and community activists are all studying how to expand food production within Detroit. Urban farming is one of many ideas for filling up and greening Detroit’s desolate expanses of vacant land.

What has to happen: City Council needs to create a new zoning class for urban farms. Other changes — such as taxing agricultural land at a lower rate than other property — also would boost the idea.

New sports arena

The plan: The Ilitch family, owners of the Red Wings and Tigers, would like to replace 30-year-old Joe Louis Arena with a new home for the Wings and maybe even attract the Detroit Pistons.

What has to happen: Find a site — suggestions include behind the Ilitch-owned Fox Theatre and across Grand River from the Ilitch-owned MotorCity Casino. Then the Ilitches and various levels of government must figure out how to pay for it.

Cobo Center

The plan: A $280-million retrofit and expansion under a five-member regional authority created last year to run the convention center.

What has to happen: Cobo has to be a better facility by the 2011 Auto Show and state of the art by 2015, when it will host an influential convention of association executives who have a lot to say about where other conventions are held.

$850 million to be used for capital improvements to DMC

Vanguard Health Systems has signed a letter of intent to buy the Detroit Medical Center, assume $639 million in debt and pension contributions and another $850 million in capital improvements. Here’s how the money would be spent.


The plan: DMC hopes to finalize by June a $1.5-billion deal with Vanguard, a for-profit system that plans to invest $850 million into upgrading and expanding DMC facilities. The investment is expected to create 5,000 jobs.

What has to happen: DMC must secure a state renaissance zone designation for 12 years free of local and state taxes. The city and Wayne County also have to sign off, and the state attorney general has to approve the sale, based on whether DMC will maintain its charitable service mission.

Second span to Windsor

ecity-map6-insetAt this writing, there are two proposals to build new bridges linking Detroit and Windsor. One would create a second span next to the Ambassador Bridge. The other would create a new publicly-owned bridge downriver near Zug Island.

The plan: Detroit-Windsor could, by 2020, be linked by either one or both of two new bridges over the Detroit River — a privately owned span next to the Ambassador Bridge and a publicly owned one 2 miles west. Or ongoing lawsuits and bickering could stymie both and reduce Detroit to a second-rate border crossing.

What has to happen: For the privately owned Ambassador Bridge to build its second span, the company needs permits from the U.S. Coast Guard and environmental clearance from Canada. Neither will come easily. For the Detroit River International Crossing project to become reality, the consortium of four governments involved needs to resolve several lawsuits filed by the Ambassador owners to stop the project, persuade the Legislature to authorize money for further work, and get the Canadian government to acquire land and do preconstruction work on its side of the river.


The plan: An $11-billion investment to turn the area around Metro Airport into an “airport city” hub of commerce and logistics, potentially employing 64,000 people and including a rail line from the airport into Detroit.

What has to happen: Zoning and planning are actually complete at the local level in a rare example of intergovernmental cooperation. Wayne and Oakland counties also have reached accord on using tax-free renaissance zones to help attract businesses to the aerotropolis district. The Legislature has to complete action.

RiverWalk will stretch over five miles, from bridge to bridge


The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has mapped plans to extend the RiverWalk more than five miles from the Ambassador Bridge to beyond the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle. At this writing, a little over half has been completed.

Citywide paths designed for cyclists and walkers

The city plans to put up about 30 miles of bike lanes and more than 12 miles of routes designed for cyclists starting in September in southwest Detroit, near Wayne State and on the east side. The aim is a network of hundreds of miles of biking and walking paths connecting neighborhoods and attractions across the city.

RiverWalk, bike trails, green space

The plan: Completing a pedestrian walkway along the Detroit River from the Ambassador Bridge to the MacArthur Bridge at Belle Isle; connecting that to many more miles of bike and pedestrian-friendly routes throughout the city.

What has to happen: The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy will have the eastern section of the RiverWalk completed in 2012 if contamination issues at the former Uniroyal property are addressed. The west riverfront plan is on a five-year schedule; it depends on fund-raising and addressing a few remaining ownership issues. Greenway projects elsewhere are proceeding in sections — groundbreaking is set for April 15 on the Midtown loop — and would require roughly $50 million to complete in full.

New life for Fairgrounds


A repurposed State Fairgrounds would be open year-round as a Metropark.

The plan: Convert the property closed down by the state in 2009 into a year-round urban park.

What has to happen: The Huron-Clinton Metroparks board is considering the idea, which could cost from $15 million to $50 million. The state, which had hopes of selling the property to a developer, would have to agree to lease the site for $1 a year.

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