Dave Blaszkiewicz is president and CEO of Invest Detroit, a leading source of private-sector financing to support economic and community development in Detroit and a partner in the Reimagining the Civic Commons national initiative.
With Invest Detroit’s 20-year history of economic development, we’ve learned that sustainable revitalization is based on two key pillars: leverage and leadership. Leverage is created by focusing the toolkits of collaborative partners on development strategies; and leadership is moving the process forward while being aligned with community partners and objectives. In Detroit, this premise is well represented by initiatives where the public, private and philanthropic sectors have worked together to provide the leadership and support which today is driving momentum in Greater Downtown.
As we build on these successful efforts, we have expanded the areas where we work and are exporting lessons learned to other Detroit neighborhoods. Our goal is to create density, jobs and vibrant walkable communities. That’s why we’re excited that Knight Foundation and Ford Foundation are investing $2.5 million in the Strategic Neighborhood Fund, a partnership between Invest Detroit and the city of Detroit, focusing on three areas: the West Village on the city’s lower east side, the Vernor Highway corridor in southwest Detroit and the Livernois-McNichols corridor of Northwest Detroit.
The $30 million Strategic Neighborhood Fund is targeting these neighborhoods for investment now, with seven more neighborhoods planned in the coming years. We are working with community leaders to enhance commercial corridors, and promote and stabilize commercial real estate projects. Our strategy includes development of mixed-income housing, and enhanced community infrastructure and services such as safety and security enhancements, pedestrian lighting, park improvements, and bike-share programming.
Of equal importance in this effort is our strategic alliance with the city of Detroit. It is the first time since Invest Detroit’s inception that we have formed a formal partnership with the city to attract additional investment, residents and businesses to create momentum for sustainable economic growth.
So, what does this mean for Detroit? Livernois-McNichols offers an instructive example. In this corridor, the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative connects two anchor institutions (University of Detroit Mercy on the east and Marygrove College on the west) with mixed-use housing, and walkable, safe streets, while introducing an ambitious open-space strategy in the Fitzgerald neighborhood that includes the creation of a new public park.
When you stand at the intersection of Livernois Avenue and McNichols Road you can see evidence of Detroit’s decline resulting from decades of disinvestment. Blocks of well-maintained housing are strewn with vacant lots and blighted homes. Two historic college campuses and the famous Avenue of Fashion, which includes America’s oldest operating jazz club, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, are interspersed with blocks of empty retail and few people walking the streets. The contrasts are stark. However, this dichotomy also presents a meaningful opportunity to add multifamily housing, stabilize historic buildings and bring new life to vacant storefronts.
Partners committed to the Reimagining the Civic Commons work in the Livernois-McNichols corridor include Invest Detroit, the city of Detroit, two anchor educational institutions, the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., Detroit Land Bank Authority, The Greening of Detroit and Detroit Collaborative Design Center. Live6 Alliance is a strong local partner providing community leadership. These partners are the liaisons to the community and integral to success of large-scale redevelopment initiatives such as Reimagining the Civic Commons.
Through the Strategic Neighborhood Fund, we will devote additional gap financing tools to stimulate multifamily and retail, and in partnership with the city of Detroit, will provide additional subsidies to address the lack of development funding and commercial lending within the city. More than $10 million of the Strategic Neighborhood Fund is targeted for the Livernois-McNichols microdistrict, which will complement the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative. Additional investment comes from the Fitz Forward partnership, which was awarded a city-issued request for proposals to rehabilitate 115 empty homes and more than 270 vacant lots in the Fitzgerald neighborhoods between the two university anchors.
Collectively, the public spaces in Livernois-McNichols make it an ideal demonstration area for shaping a scalable investment strategy that can be translated to other neighborhoods citywide. Through the Strategic Neighborhood Fund, the coordinated efforts of Invest Detroit and our partners will focus on the creation of vibrant, mixed-income neighborhoods for all Detroiters.