Transportation is key to any successful city. Look at New York City, they have the subway, and cabs everywhere. Cleveland just integrated a Rapid Bus Transit system and Washington D.C. plans on opening a new streetcar system this year. Detroit needs rapid transit, or some form of improved transportation.
Detroit does have a couple of things, let’s not forget. They do have the People Mover. It’s an elevated light rail that transports people around the Downtown sector of Detroit. It’s officially 2.9 miles long, and has a daily rider ship of just around 7,000 people. The People Mover opened up in 1987, and is owned by the Detroit Transportation Corporation. The original fare that the company charged was $.50 up until this past December. The fare went up to $.75 to keep the light rail running.
The Detroit People Mover does its job; it transports people around the Downtown area, which is where many of the jobs are in the city. A few people have considered extending the People Mover farther out, towards the Midtown area, and even the New Center area. The plans for that probably won’t come to fruition as there are other plans for rapid transit in the city.
Other than light rail in the city, there is also busing. The SMART Bus system runs through Wayne County, Oakland County, and Macomb County. According to their website,www.smartbus.org, they provide 12 million rides annually, and work 22 hours a day, with 54 routes, and 275 fixed route buses. The bus system is trying to provide service to around 3 million people in the Metro Detroit area. Unfortunately, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing just cut busing in the city from 1:00am-4:00am looking to save money in their budget.
There have been many complaints about the bus system, in which the buses are always late, they need more buses, and drivers, and stops. Without a fast bus system, who would want to stay in Detroit or Southeast Michigan without reliable transportation? Many city officials, leaders, and prominent businessmen, as well as the federal government are looking to improve the transportation and solve the problems in Detroit.
One of the proposals, originally to help the transportation problem in Detroit was the M-1 Light Rail Project. Planning began in 2006 to bring some sort of light rail, or streetcar back to Detroit. From 1892-1956, Detroit had a streetcar system, but was scrapped for buses as they tried to move forward with technology. The light rail project supposedly was to be spanned from the Rosa Parks Transit Center on Michigan Avenue in Downtown Detroit, up all the way to the State Fairgrounds at 8 Mile and Woodward Avenue. There would have been 19 stops and 10 cars.
Unfortunately though, after years of planning, Mayor Dave Bing turned the idea down, explaining it was too much money for a short line, and wanted to use it for a larger system. The new idea is the Bus Rapid Transit System.
The Bus Rapid Transit System would cost the same as the M-1 Light Rail Project, $550 million, and cover 110 miles instead of just 9.3 miles. The system would be run by a regional authority, and be a lot faster than the SMART bus system that is currently in place. The system would also have a lane dedicated to just the buses, as well as larger, covered stations for passengers.
The passengers would be able to ride smaller, efficient buses around their neighborhoods, and move to the larger, more regional buses at the stations. Also, the system would include faster loading and unloading, with payment at a turnstile instead of on the bus when you get on. It seems to be supported by the federal government and the regional transportation authority. There is no date yet for when plans will be finalized for this, although it would help the region and the city especially.
The M-1 Light Rail Project isn’t dead either, despite the disappointing result of having it scrapped. The team (made up of private entrepreneurs and businessmen) is looking into a 3-mile route that would run from Downtown to the New Center Area at Woodward Avenue and West Grand Boulevard. There still aren’t concrete plans on when this could start developing either.
Detroit had some great transportation options during its heyday. Today, they barely provide adequate busing. If this possible Bus Rapid Transit comes to fruition, the Metro Detroit Region may improve and you could see more people coming to Detroit and the Downtown area. The city has so much to provide with entertainment, culture, the arts, food, and sporting events. The easier it is to access fast and affordable regional transportation, the more people will use it and come to Detroit.
You can check out my other articles at www.michiganjournal.org
A building that was the main focus of last week’s article was an old factory that was re-purposed into lofts and studio space for artists and artisans. This week we will look at a couple of buildings in the Downtown area that are looking to be renovated this year.
The former home of the Detroit Free Press was bought in late 2011 and is looking to start renovation this year. The Free Press Building, as it is known, was built in 1925 by renowned Detroit architect Albert Khan. It was home number 13 for the Detroit Free Press until 1998 when they moved into the Detroit News Building a few blocks down.
It is located at 321 West Lafayette Blvd between Washington and Cass. It is six stories with a 14-story tower that housed the executives of the Free Press. The owner who commissioned the building to be built, E.D. Stair, was a member of the Detroit Club, a renowned exclusive club for many of the city’s high ranking citizens. It is directly next door and connected on the third floor.
It has a lot of historic elements, including the entrance, and many reliefs of famous Americans including Benjamin Franklin, George Custer and Horace Greeley. Leo Phillips, who bought the Fort Shelby Hotel and helped redevelop that building into apartments and a hotel, bought the Free Press Building too. “Our intent is to convert this into a multi-use building, with the first floor being retail, second floor office, and starting from the third floor up we are going to put in 115 apartments,” said Phillips.
They also plan on putting a parking structure in the basement where the presses of the paper once were. There is an estimated $70 million going into the building, along with many tax credits because it is such a historic building. There is no update on when the building will open or when it will take applications for residents. Having the Free Press Building renovated gives the city something else to look forward to, an empty building that will have tenants and residents instead of another eyesore.
Another building that is going to be re-purposed is over near the Greektown area of Downtown. The University of Detroit-Mercy just recently bought a former firehouse. There is no exact date on when it was built, but many speculate that it was the early 1900s. It still boasts its old red firehouse doors, and the lookout tower. It is located at 585 Larned Street.
The two-story facility will house 6,000 square feet of space for the ten legal aid clinics for the school. UDM Law has said they will keep the historic look of the building. It is expected to be done by this December.
The Grand Army of the Republic Building is located in a part of Downtown that has seen many historic and older buildings torn down in favor of parking lots, at 1942 Grand River on a section of triangular concrete surrounded by road on all sides. It was built by Julius Hess in the late 1890s and early 1900s. It was built for all of the Civil War Veterans as a hangout pretty much. As the veterans grew older, the building became more and more empty. It closed in 1982, and has been empty ever since.
It was sold to Ilitch Holdings in 1992 and Mr. Ilitch, who spent $214 million a couple of weeks ago on one baseball player, let the building sit empty. The city of Detroit didn’t like that and sold it just recently to David and Tom Carleton, brothers who operate Mindfield Pictures, a media company based on the other side of Downtown Detroit. They bought it for $220,000 and immediately began renovating on the first of November.
They secured the roof to protect from water and snow in the winter. After a $2-$3 million renovation, it is expected to open sometime in 2013. Mindfield will make its headquarters on the top two floors while the bottom two will be leased to a restaurant and retail. The brothers also plan to have a Civil War Memorial incorporated into the building in some way to honor the veterans who spent much of their time in their old age.
Finally, in another recent development, Dan Gilbert, who was the focus of the series earlier in the fall semester, has done more to become one of the big players in Detroit. He has bought many other buildings downtown since we last mentioned him. He now has bought The Wright-Kay Building, located at 1500 Woodward, the Lane-Bryant Building, located at 1520 Woodward, and the Arts League of Michigan Building, located at 1528 Woodward. These three buildings are all on the same block. It has been said he wants to use these buildings as lofts, offices, and retail.
He also owns the Dime Building, First National Building, the Chase Tower, and now the former Federal Reserve Building, right next to the Dime. He is quickly becoming a large landowner in Detroit and is looking to fill all of these buildings with tenants. He hopes to fill the Federal Reserve Building with one tenant. He was able to announce this on the day of the official opening of the Madison Building, the former Madison Theatre Building this past week. He filled it with start-up companies, anchored by Skidmore Studios.
Gilbert is looking to fill a part of the Dime Building with Chrysler LLC, and hopes to revitalize Woodward with many web and digital companies, by calling it “Webward Avenue.” In revitalizing many of these buildings and more Detroit will have a great tax base, lots of tenants and once again be a great city.
You can check out my other articles on www.michiganjournal.org
Detroit doesn’t have the best neighborhoods, in fact many are run down. The city is looking to downsize because of the excess of space that it has. There are some good neighborhoods in Detroit though, that people are taking over, and making safer.
Indian Village, Woodbridge, and the Boston-Edison neighborhoods are all historic districts, within the city limits and are showing us that there can be sustainable neighborhoods outside Downtown.
The Woodbridge neighborhood is a historic neighborhood that is just outside of the Midtown district of Detroit. It is bound by Grand River Avenue, I-94 (Edsel Ford Freeway), and M-10 (John C. Lodge Freeway). It is also bordered, just on the other side of the Lodge, by Wayne State University.
The historic neighborhood is one of the last neighborhoods in the city that was spared from redevelopment throughout the history of the city. Many of the homes are of the Victorian era, and it has many significant architectural structures. A couple of the historic structures include the Eighth Precinct Police Station, which now houses The Phoenix Group, the Northwood-Hunter House, which is now a bed and breakfast, the Trinity Episcopal Church, and the Trumbull Avenue Presbyterian Church.
Being so close to the Wayne State campus, the neighborhood is being filled with many students, employees of many businesses downtown, and even the City Council President.
“The neighborhood was slated for demolition more than once by different expansions of local institutions and also urban renewal projects,” said Graig Donnelly, Executive Director of the Woodbridge Neighborhood Development Corporation.
The Woodbridge neighborhood is on its way to becoming one of the great neighborhoods to live in as it becomes more popular, and is recognized by Donnelly for being really safe.
The Indian Village neighborhood is another historic district in Detroit. Many of the houses in the neighborhood were built around the late 1800s. It is bordered by Mack Avenue in the north, East Jefferson Avenue to the south, and along the streets of Burns, Iroquois and Seminole. Many of the homes in Indian Village were built by Albert Khan, one of the city’s premier architects, and Louis Kamper, another architect of many Detroit buildings.
Many of the city’s prominent citizens lived in Indian Village, including Edsel Ford and Henry Leland, founder of Lincoln and Cadillac. Why are they included in this list? Well, the neighborhood has it’s own Women’s Garden Club and Men’s Garden Club. They also host every June, an annual Home and Garden tour, a neighborhood yard sale in September, and a holiday home tour in December. The neighborhood is bringing more people into the homes, showing them what they have, and how they are involved together in the community. They even have their own website, which you can visit at www.historicindianvillage.org.
The final neighborhood that is showing that living in the city is great is the Boston-Edison neighborhood. It is bound by Edison Avenue to the south, Woodward Avenue to the east, Linwood Avenue to the west, and Boston Avenue to the north. It is one of the largest residential historic districts in the nation. It has over 900 homes on just four east/west streets.
The historic district boasts many big names too, former residents of the neighborhood. Former Detroit Tiger Willie Horton, famous labor leader Walter P. Reuther, Michigan Supreme Court Justices Franz C. Kuhn and Henry Butzel, Michigan Governor Harry Kelly, U.S. Representative Vincent M. Brennan, boxer Joe Louis, Motown record label owner Berry Gordy, Henry Ford, Walter Briggs, and Max Fisher have all resided in the district.
The Boston-Edison district has the oldest continuous neighborhood association in Detroit, founded in 1921, the Historic Boston-Edison Association. The association also has their own website, www.historicbostonedison.org.
All of these neighborhoods in Detroit, although closer to Downtown instead of the outlying areas, are showing us that there are safe neighborhoods in Detroit. People do care about each other, and there is a want and a need for safe neighborhoods in the city. These historic districts are showing us that, and the more people do this and band together, to make Detroit a safer place, the more that people will want to live there.
You can check out my other articles on www.michiganjournal.org