City takes a ‘grassroots approach’ to revitalizing Historic Fort Wayne

Photo credit: Historic Fort Wayne Events/FacebookOne applicant, the James Oliver Coffee Company, would like to transform the old Post Engineer’s Storehouse, or Building #201, into a coffee roastery and café. Detroit Rising Development and Grand Circus Media hope to turn the old stables facility, or Building #222, into a concert venue, event space, and beverage production facility.

The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi want to utilize both the Great Lakes Indian Museum, or Building #117, and the historic Burial Mound as cultural sites.

And in buildings yet to be determined, C.A.N. Art Handworks and the Southwest Detroit Business Association hope to open a skilled trades training center and the Southwest Detroit Latinio Museum and Cultural Center, respectively. The buildings may not have been identified but the organizations do know they want to be part of the revitalization of Historic Fort Wayne. They do know that.

The aforementioned applicants consist of those that submitted proposals under a Request for Interest, or RFI, first released by the Detroit Parks & Recreation Department in March 2020. Though the release of the RFI coincided with the local arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unfortunate bit of happenstance that could have affected the amount of RFI proposals received, the applicants reveal how the historic 78-acre site and its 40-plus buildings could be revitalized.

Rather than one major developer shaping the direction of the site, it could become a network of smaller adaptive reuse projects.

“I think that there were a lot of folks that were kind of concerned about seeing a master developer type-of-thing come in where all of a sudden all of Officers’ Row is being redeveloped at once,” Meagan Elliott, Chief Parks Planner for the City of Detroit, said at a community meeting held via Zoom on Monday, Feb. 22.

“And we’ve been working really hard to take more of a grassroots approach to make sure that we have not just local support but that the space looks and feels like the community around it, like the Fort Wayne that we already all love. We have been taking that very seriously. And I think part of that approach is about limiting the application size.

“We’ve seen people bring us approaches for a large number of buildings and we’ve said let’s start slow and see what happens with one building and vet through that process.”

The Request for Interest process was just that, a toe in the water to gauge what interest there is for developing the various buildings on site. It’s part of a larger Historic Fort Wayne Strategic Plan that will be used to guide development of the grounds, find partnerships, and obtain financial funding.

A rezoning and master plan amendment is scheduled to go in front of City Council on Thursday, Feb. 25. Council will vote to approve changes to land use designations which will allow for the rezoning changes deemed necessary for redeveloping the site.

Visit the Historic Fort Wayne website to learn more about the master plan process and what might be next for the historic site on the banks of the Detroit River.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

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MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.
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