A lot has been happening on the development front in Detroit's Jefferson Chalmers district of late. And last week Mayor Mike Duggan stopped by the neighborhood to speak with residents about some of these changes. During a March 11 talk sponsored by the Southeast Waterfront Neighborhood Association (SWNA) at Hope Community Church, the Mayor addressed the latest developments in a neighborhood framework plan for the community as well as arrangements to build a new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) vehicle assembly plant on the border of Jefferson Chalmers.
Announced more than a year ago, the Jefferson Chalmers Neighborhood Framework Plan is one of a series of efforts to engage in focused development planning in specific areas of the city. In Jefferson Chalmers, the plan prioritizes revitalizing Jefferson Avenue, stabilizing neighborhood residential blocks, and enhancing waterfront parks. The city recently wrapped up a series of community information-gathering meetings and is now in the implementation phase of the neighborhood framework project.
"When people come to me and say there's no more deals in Downtown and Midtown, I tell them, 'No kidding?' Go take a look at Jefferson Chalmers," Mayor Duggan told the SWNA gathering. He pointed to recent efforts to demolish of abandoned houses and renovate parks and sidewalks as signs of the efforts the city is making in Jefferson Chalmers. In addition to this, the community has been attracting investment that includes new restaurants and vacant buildings being rehabbed into housing units. The city also plans on putting out a request for proposals for a mixed-use development that would feature a grocery store and rental apartments.
"We are going to keep putting resources in here, so that this neighborhood comes back to what many of you remember," said the mayor.
While the plan has been enjoying support from some sectors of the community, it is not without criticism. Last Thursday a group called Jefferson Chalmers Community Advocates held a rally at Maheras-Gentry Park calling for "Development without Displacement" of existing residents in the neighborhood. During the event, the organization shared the results of a community survey of about 500 local residents, who they say want to prioritize housing, education, and the repair or rebuilding of a recreation center at Maheras-Gentry Park, when it comes to funding for the neighborhood.
Mayor Duggan's administration has repeatedly stressed that they want the Jefferson Chalmers framework plan to be an inclusive effort that benefits existing residents and takes their concerns into consideration. To this end, a series of community meetings were held over the last year to gather input from local residents.
In addition to the framework plan, the city has also been working with FCA to establish a new manufacturing facility in the vicinity of Jefferson Chalmers. The automaker wants to convert Detroit's existing Mack Avenue Engine Complex into a vehicle assembly plant that would manufacture next generation Jeep Grand Cherokees, full-size SUVs, and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
Late last month, the manufacturer signed a document giving the city 60 days to obtain binding agreements transferring the title of the Mack plant and allowing construction to proceed for the retooled factory and related facilities. FCA is expected to spend an estimated $1.6 billion investment building the complex, which could bring thousands of new jobs to Detroit.
"From your standpoint, one of the most notable things that you will see is that the Conner Creek Power Station will no longer be in your sight," Mayor Duggan told the SWNA assembly. Under the proposed project, the power station would be demolished and environmentally cleaned as part of a staging site for the FCA plant where vehicles would be parked before being shipped out via truck. Parts of the power station, now operated by DTE Energy, could also be developed into office space.
The mayor elaborated his view of how the new factory would benefit residents in a recent press release concerning the city's negotiations with FCA. "This opportunity is unlike anything we have seen in decades, and it’s going to be crucial that we come together in the interest of our city and our residents over the next 60 days to bring nearly 5,000 new good-paying jobs to this neighborhood," he said. "Most importantly, we’re going to bring these 5,000 jobs to Detroit without displacing a single resident."
FCA's planned investment in the city, softens the financial impact of losing GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, a closure that was announced last year. And it could carry economic benefits above and beyond those directly linked to employment at the factory site. During his talk, Duggan estimated roughly 35,000 jobs with indirect links to the plant could also be created. And because FCA plans on spending an estimated $1.6 billion to set up the proposed factory, the project would likely fall under the jurisdiction of the city's Community Benefits Ordinance (CBO), which applies to any development project investment upwards of $75 million that seeks to take advantage of tax incentives.
Under the CBO process, the city works with communities to identify community benefits and address potential development impacts. The ordinance requires developers to meet with a nine-member advisory council made up of local residents, but does not require them to sign an agreement. If a deal is reached by the two parties, it must then be approved by Detroit City Council to become binding.
As part of a community benefits agreement tied to Ford's purchase of Michigan Central Station for an autonomous and electrified vehicle R&D campus last year, Detroit's Corktown neighborhood used this process to negotiate about $22.5 million in community benefits that include park and streetscape improvements, scholarships for youth seeking jobs in STEAM fields and funding for Golightly Technical Center to provide workplace training for youth and adults for emerging tech sector jobs.
This article is part of our "On the Ground" series, where a journalist reports from a dedicated neighborhood for weekly coverage. Support for this series is provided by the Kresge Foundation.
Image courtesy of FCA.