Many people’s lives were put on pause in 2020. That goes for a lot of developments in Detroit as well.
Whether it was a pandemic-produced halt to construction or a pandemic-produced redesign or a pandemic-produced loss of financing, it seemed fewer projects were completed this year. But hopefully that means we’ll see more finish in 2021. If nothing else, as normalcy returns to the world, we should see more progress.
The projects on this list were chosen because they bring something important to the city: affordable housing, more green space, historic preservation. Or they’re worth watching to make sure promises are kept. We also stayed away from some of the city’s marquee developments, like the Hudson’s site or the Fiat Chrysler expansion, because if you follow what’s happening in Detroit, you’re likely getting updates on these projects already.
Here are the most important developments to keep an eye on next year.
Construction at the iconic “Hitsville USA” home in Northwest Goldberg, where the Motown sound was recorded and spread to the world, began in fall 2019. In phase one, which was originally supposed to be completed this year, two homes facing West Grand would be remodeled and connected by a glass atrium.
The expansion will eventually create 50,000 square feet of new exhibit space, plus a theater and a recording studio. But given that the museum is about halfway to its $50 million fundraising goal, this project will be unveiled in stages spanning multiple years.
Joe Louis Greenway
After years of planning and engagement, will construction of Joe Louis Greenway finally begin in 2021? The city plans to break ground next year on the 27.5-mile non-motorized trail that will loop around Detroit and pass through parts of Hamtramck, Highland Park and Dearborn.
The city has identified a 2.8-mile stretch from Warren Avenue to Fullerton Street on the west side for phase one of construction. There will be a lengthy off-street section on an old Conrail line and a short cross-over on Grand River Avenue. Expect multiple access points on Warren and nearby residential streets.
It will take many years and more than $50 million to complete the greenway. But a finished section is an important step to building community buy-in to this transformational project.
West Riverfront Park
Part of another multi-year, multi-phase project, construction on the west riverfront, now called the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park, will begin in earnest in 2021.
Except for a half-mile stretch at the former Uniroyal site, the east riverfront is essentially complete. Once the west side is done, the riverfront will provide a continuous path all the way from Belle Isle and the MacArthur Bridge to the Ambassador Bridge.
But the undeveloped west side is a major undertaking. Funded through a $100 million grant, early renderings showed a fishing eddy, beach, athletic courts and more. It currently has a 2022 completion date.
The Caterpillar is the smallest project by size on this list, but probably the most striking. This building with eight rental units, part of developer Philip Kafka’s portfolio in Core City, is a larger version of the nearby, award-winning Quonset Huts. The corrugated steel frame, subdivided like a sushi roll with one long deck wrapping around the entire building, should be finished early next year.
It will be another fascinating addition to what’s becoming one of the most uniquely designed areas in the city.
Not far south down Grand River Avenue, Allied Media Projects has begun work on a $10 million redevelopment of its new headquarters, at a building that will also hold office space for other mission-aligned organizations.
When finished, hopefully by the end of 2021, it may be the most accessible building in Detroit. There will be an over 500-square-foot childcare and lactation room, a prayer/meditation room, gender-neutral bathrooms, private ADA booths and more — not to mention sustainable features like solar panels and a sedum roof. AMP is also voluntarily entering into a community benefits agreement with nearby residents.
Though the project began with accusations of gentrification, it seems the controversy has helped to clarify AMP’s holistic vision for the building.
Detroit People’s Food Co-op
It’s been long in the making, but 2021 might finally be the year that construction begins at the food co-op led by the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. For years, the nonprofit has been scouting property and signing up members — earlier this fall, it got its 1,000 member.
The organization believes that it will be ready to break ground next year on the 34,000-square-foot, full-service grocery store in the North End. However, the $15-million project does still have a slight funding gap to overcome.
Historic Fort Wayne
While we don’t expect much to happen at the historic site in Delray in 2021, any movement will be worth watching. The U.S. General Services Administration recently cleared the city to restore buildings and make them available for redevelopment.
The city hasn’t issued any RFPs, though it has reached out to partners to purchase individual buildings or even the entire site. Next year, expect some restoration and the unveiling of a larger plan.
Parker Durand, Sugar Hill and Osi Art Apartments
These three projects share several qualities emphasized by the city of Detroit in recent years: affordable housing embedded in denser neighborhoods. Two are expected to finish in 2021.
At Parker Durand in the West Village, half of the 92 units will be priced for those making between 50 and 80% of the area median income ($27,500 to $44,000 for an individual). Apartments at this price point are desperately needed in the neighborhood where housing costs have skyrocketed in recent years.
Same goes for Sugar Hill in Midtown, a $36.6 million apartment building where one-fifth of the units will rent at 50 to 60 percent of the area median income.
And in Woodbridge, ground broke this year at the Osi Art Apartments where half the units will rent for 80% AMI, though it’s not expected to be finished until early 2022.
Will the Ilitches finally deliver? We’re as skeptical as anyone about promises from the Little Caesar Arena owners, who bought the building in 2012 but demolished its neighbor, the Park Avenue Hotel. But when we toured the Eddystone earlier this year, construction was well underway on the $35 million project to convert the building in 96 apartments.
We’re including this building on the list because we want to see if the Ilitches and Olympia Development have turned a corner. Olympia restructured its executive leadership to focus more on development. The Women’s City Club is also nearing completion. And it’s working with Cinnaire, a nonprofit developer with a proven track record, on redeveloping six buildings in the historic Cass-Henry district (which had to be made into a historic district because the Ilitches previously tried to demolish some of the buildings).
Finishing the Eddystone will be essential towards rebuilding any semblance of public trust in the family and its ability to make good on promises.
Citywide demolition and rehab
It’s not a single project, but we’ll be closely watching a larger plan to demolish, salvage and sell 16,000 homes in Detroit, made possible after voters passed Proposal N in the November election. Voter approval allows the city to issue $250 million in bonds to fund the blight remediation plan.
We wrote a comprehensive guide on Proposal N in the leadup to the election, but there’s still many questions to be answered in 2021: How will the homes be sold? Who will be able to buy them and then spend the tens of thousands of dollars necessary to make them livable? Will the new Demolition Department created by the city be successful in bringing accountability to a scandal-plagued program?
This is definitely one to follow next year.
Was there an important development we missed? Let me know by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.