Corktown needs this, Detroit needs this, heck America needs this kind of inspired thinking about how to attract investment into blighted pockets of old industrial cities in ways that respect our history and engage the surrounding community in reactivating growth.
The proposal by the city for re-use of the former Tiger Stadium site at Michigan and Trumbull, anchored by the Detroit PAL folks that run sports programs for 11,000 Detroit youths, can be just the boost to elevate Corktown from a hopeful cluster of old bars and some popular new eateries into a real neighborhood on the move.
Imagine, a burst of new residential housing on vacant parcels and crumbling parking lots west of downtown.
How about law firms renting out the hallowed ground where Kaline once roamed for fancy parties?
And imagine families from all over Detroit, schlepping their kids and youth league coaches in and out of the Detroit PAL office that’s a nerve center for youth baseball, basketball, football and soccer.
This is all very attainable, in the fairly near future.
Tim Richey, CEO of Detroit PAL, sees that. “We will have a lot of the kids and families we serve coming through the area,” he said. And yes, the new location on sacred sports ground will help raise much-need money beyond the current PAL budget that comes mostly from a few major events such as the North American International Auto Show charity preview and WJR talk host Paul W. Smith’s annual golf outing.
Dave Steinke, owner of two recently opened Corktown restaurants, the Mercury Bar and Ottava Via, also sees the potential. “Corktown needs to be more than place where lots of people come a few days a year,” whether for baseball games in the past or a St. Patrick’s Day parade now. “We want it to be a livable, 365-days-a-year neighborhood, with market-based retail and residential.”
Andrea Eckert is another believer. An artist and instructor at the College for Creative Studies, Eckert and a partner plunked down $19,000 last September for a gutted shell of a brick building at 25th and Michigan that had been abandoned since 1978. She’s building it into studio and exhibition space for youth programs.
Why there, in a pockmarked area a ways west of Slows Bar-B-Q and other trendy Corktown spots, and north of Mexicantown?
“It was the right size, the right price, a visible location on Michigan Avenue, and we saw the potential of things happening in Corktown and moving west,” Eckert said.
That, in a nutshell, is the rationale for the notion that Detroit, America’s most abandoned and disinvested major city, can somehow move beyond its Dickensian rut as a tale of two cities — a vibrant core of the educated and prosperous, surrounded by blight and poverty.
That’s what Steinke and the other officers of the Corktown Business Association were thinking last month when they sent a letter to Detroit city officials agreeing to join in crafting the Tiger Stadium proposal being issued today.
“We are baseball fans, business owners and resident of Corktown,” they wrote, adding that they want to see more residential housing, more walkable retail space and design “in keeping with the historic nature of our neighborhood.”
If Corktown can leverage a bit of Detroit’s storied sports history and sprinkle in some reality-based common sense — like a Michigan State Police mini-station planned as part of the Tiger Stadium site project — maybe it adds up to another hot pocket, beyond downtown and Midtown.
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