Friday, September 10, 2010

A Detroit District Thrives by Building on the Past

Thanks to the NY Times we're taking another virtual trip to that great American city of Detroit. Of course depending on how you view Detroit it's not so great and it's no stretch to say that great city is struggling to find itself these days. Anyway, what about building on the past in this Detroit neighborhood:
In sharp contrast to the rest of the Detroit metropolitan area, an area known as Midtown just north of the central business district has been holding its own in the recession.

Much of the success of Midtown — as it was branded a decade ago — is a result of the strength of institutions like Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center, the Henry Ford Hospital and the Detroit Institute of Arts, all of which contribute students and employees as well as residents.

Another component of Midtown’s success is that its developers are refurbishing older buildings, using tax credits and public financing, as much as they are building from scratch.

“For a long time, there was a big effort to tear things down in Detroit,” said Michael Poris, a principal of the architecture firm McIntosh Poris Associates, which is restoring a former vaudeville house in Midtown for multiple uses. “But if we have all these great historic buildings here, why not take the historic tax credits and reuse them? Plus it’s a greener, more sustainable form of development.”

According to the CoStar Group, a real estate information company in Bethesda, Md., the vacancy rate for office space in Midtown — including an adjacent area called New Center, where the former headquarters of General Motors now houses state offices — stood at 8.2 percent in the second quarter of this year.
“We really have lost almost no businesses during the recession,” said Susan Mosey, the president of the University Cultural Center Association, an organization formed by several Midtown institutions that guides development in the area. “That isn’t to say that businesses haven’t had to reduce costs and become more efficient, but the neighborhood’s remained pretty stable.”

The housing market is thriving too, Ms. Mosey said. Many obsolete buildings in Midtown have been converted to rental housing in recent years, and the rental market has been strong. An association study found that 92 percent of the 4,295 rental units in the area were occupied last spring.

A handful of condominium projects begun right before the national housing market collapsed had to shift gears and become rental apartments. Those were leased quickly, Ms. Mosey said.
Preservationists had the foresight to get much of Midtown designated as historic in the 1990s, thus ensuring they would be eligible for tax credits, said Diane Van Buren, vice president of sustainable planning at Zachary & Associates, a property development and development consulting group.

Zachary & Associates, with several partners, is in the process of creating an area within Midtown called the Sugar Hill Arts District, in tribute to the traveling black jazz musicians who once played in clubs and stayed in stately homes in the neighborhood, Ms. Van Buren said.

Much of the district was destroyed in the urban renewal movement in the mid-20th century that displaced many African-American neighborhoods in Detroit and elsewhere, she said.

Several buildings and sites in Sugar Hill are being redeveloped, including 71 East Garfield Street — the former site of a hotel that was destroyed by fire — which has undergone a $6 million renovation into 22 live-work spaces for artists and eight commercial spaces.
I probably excerpted a lot more from this article than I should of, but this is an interesting article that is worth your time. Not all is bad in Detroit and there are people there - oustide of the political establishment - who are working to rebuild Detroit. Finding your groove of course takes lots of time.

Hat-tip Urbanophile which also has a post up about how Detroit can market itself.

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