Woodbridge developers seek resident input on future of Hancock School, other neighborhood projects

An early childhood center, daycare, kids activity center, and space for youth and senior programming are some of the ideas residents shared at a recent community meeting centered on the future of the former Hancock School in Woodbridge.


As part of the Oct. 10 Woodbridge Citizens’ Council meeting, attendees participated in exercises that sparked preliminary conversation around community, residential, commercial, and open space development ideas. The exercises were led by nonprofit Woodbridge Neighborhood Development (WND); nonprofit developer Cinnaire Solutions; and MKSK Studios, their newly selected planning and design team. WND and Cinnaire are co-developing Hancock School as well as other projects in the neighborhood.


The council meeting specifically kicked off planning conversations about the vacant Hancock School, a former middle school building that has been sitting empty since the early 2000s. The property, at 1745 W. Hancock St., includes a nearly 18,000-square-foot single-story building with an internal courtyard and off-street parking.


Angie Gaabo, executive director of WND and Woodbridge resident, says citizens have about a dozen ideas for the space, including designating room for community gatherings. “We don't have a space in the neighborhood where the community is invited,” Gaabo says. “And so the opportunity to think through what could happen there and what's missing is exciting.”


Other ideas from the 40 or so residents gathered at the meeting included single-story housing, senior housing, and coworking space, as well as maker space in the spirit of Ponyride or a laundromat/coffee shop/community center inspired by The Commons (on the city’s east side). Job training was also mentioned; perhaps a trade school as the site was also once used. Gaabo says one of the key takeaways from the meeting was that the building could support several different concepts due to its size.


“The likely scenario is, it will not just be one thing,” she says.


WND was awarded $150,000 from the Kresge Innovative Projects in Detroit program to begin cleanup and planning for the site and to establish a part of the school building as a community space and a pop-up planning center for neighborhood development. Ed Potas, manager of real estate development at Cinnaire, says without concrete plans, it’s too soon to know redevelopment costs for the site.


The school project is one of several redevelopment projects WND and Cinnaire are undertaking in the neighborhood. The second redevelopment site, a 7-acre vacant lot along Rosa Parks Boulevard near Grand River where Wilbur Wright School and the Detroit School of Arts once stood, will be years in the making, Gaabo says. Residents showed an enthusiasm for a range of housing there that would offer multiple price points, mobility with age, and single-family and smaller energy-efficient homes. The community also began to target “the spirit of businesses” they would like to see there, with categories like walkable, local hiring and ownership, and affordability. The final outcome will most likely be a mixture of commercial, residential, and green space.


The “Giraffe Building,” which welcomes visitors into Woodbridge off Grand River at Trumbull, is also being co-developed with Cinnaire. Community engagement over this space was held in the spring and renovations are starting in the next week or so, Gaabo says, with a plan to be up and running by spring. Potas says the overall project costs were $1.4 million from acquisition to rehab. The three-story, 8,600-square-foot former bank branch will hold WDN offices on the ground floor, rentable semi-private office space on the top two floors, and a still-to-be-determined restaurant or bar on street level. This will be an asset for the south part of the neighborhood, Gaabo points out, which isn’t adjacent to the food offerings north of Warren Avenue at The Woodbridge Pub and Pie-Sci Pizza.


In addition to these major sites, WND has partnered with Cinnaire on two vacant home restorations, whose sale proceeds benefit a minor home repair grant program launched last year for residents. Gaabo says as the WND learns from working with Cinnaire, increasing its own organizational capacity to think about what's involved in funding and starting to acquire the skillset for major construction projects, it hopes to encourage this model of trust and experimentation between neighborhood and lending nonprofits that engage residents at the core of community planning.


City development presses toward the historic Woodbridge neighborhood from all sides: New Center to the north, Midtown to the east, Corktown to the south, and the increasingly popular Core City to the west. Gaabo says with Woodbrige in the middle of those rapid changes, people feel like they don’t have control over what’s happening. She hopes the work of WND gives individuals voice over what happens where they live and helps to create spaces with diverse community-serving purposes.


"We know there's development pressure,” she says, “and this is a chance to have some control over, maybe, the direction that this goes in, and to put up these guardrails around it. I'm hoping that we can excite people about that, and that they'll see they really had a hand in what we end up doing here, and what ends up happening here.”


It’s too early to tell where plans will lead, Gaabo says. The initial meeting was focused on building awareness of the coming development, starting a conversation with residents about the process and getting them thinking about possibilities. Smaller “living room chats,” on these topics will continue through November and be followed by larger public meetings in December and into January.

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Sarah Williams is a freelance writer and photojournalist based in metro Detroit. Her work focuses on individuals and nonprofit organizations investing in their communities through arts and culture, holistic healthcare, education and neighborhood revitalization. Follow her on Instagram @sarahwilliamstoryteller