Southwest Housing unveils revitalization plans for Mercado area - and yes, that tunnel gets lit

Mexicantown: Vernor/Bagley Vista is a vision for the 20-block area surrounding the I-75 and Vernor intersection in Southwest Detroit. Spearheaded by Southwest Housing Solutions and facilitated by University of Detroit Mercy Detroit Collaborative Design Center with input from over 75 stakeholders, the project aims to link the area to surrounding neighborhoods including Corktown and the West Riverfront, promote a multi-cultural community and encourage sustainability.

The project evolved over six months and numerous meetings and workshops. Many participants shared a common goal "to celebrate what is already happening," says DCDC director Dan Pitera. "Things are beginning to happen, and we want to amplify that." Three centers of growth were identified as food, art and music, and Vernor and Bagley were targeted as dynamic, walkable streets. "We want both streets to be active commercially and with pedestrians, with the space in between them becoming connectors," he says.

The Mexicantown Mercado, which Southwest Housing is hoping to purchase, will become the area's "living room," says Pitera, who envisions event space and a tenant mix of new and established businesses. "The Mercado could be the place where young businesses and more seasoned businesses can learn from each other."

The area north of W. Vernor has potential to be where entrepreneurs and artists intersect and could become home to an indoor sports complex.

The next step in the process is to meet with individual business owners. "These discussions need to be vetted through economic development," says Pitera.

Vista participants called for improvements to the viaduct that runs under the train tracks behind the Michigan Central Station that serves as the gateway in and out of the district. Filed under Perfect Timing, a trio of artists calling themselves 100 Points of Light came forward with a concept to light the underpass with solar energy.

Armed with a grant from Kresge Community Arts, the group -- comprised of siblings Mary Beth and Patrick Carolan and Robert Reese -- propose a series of solatubes paired with chandeliers inspired by those once found in the depot that are powered by light stored in solar panels. Eventually, excess power generated would be sold back to the grid, creating the possibility that the concept becomes not only self-sustaining, but profitable.

Over the next few months, 100 Points of Light will focus on cleaning up the underpass and replacing existing bulbs with high-efficiency LEDs while planning for installation gets underway.

Track and viaduct owners Canadian Pacific have been "extremely open with discussions," says Pitera.

Sources: Mary Beth Carolan, 100 Points of Light and Dan Pitera and Krista Wilson, Detroit Collaborative Design Center
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

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