7 of the most exciting developments to watch in Detroit for 2019

2018 set the table for some massive, transformational developments in Detroit this year. We'll certainly be following Bedrock's nearly $2 billion Hudson Tower and Monroe Block projects, The Gordie Howe International Bridge, and Ford's Michigan Central Station.

But we're more excited about a slew of other projects that, we feel, will more directly affect the welfare of Detroiters. Here are 7 developments we'll be closely watching in 2019. 

The Riverfront

In his piece for Model D last year covering the various riverfront projects, MJ Galbraith wrote, "In the myriad ways that Detroit has changed over the past decade or so, the transformation of its riverfront is one of the starkest in the city. What once was a largely inaccessible patchwork of private property scattered with industry and parking lots has since become one of Detroit's busiest public spaces."

And that's going to change even more in 2019. The riverfront will eventually stretch all the way from Belle Isle to the east to the Ambassador Bridge to the west. Ground has already broke on Atwater Beach, a 3.2-acre recreational area. A new pedestrian bridge and a floating barge café will connect a crucial gap of the RiverWalk. 

And there will be even more public space, including eight extra acres of park space, an expanded Milliken State Park, and safer pedestrian crossings along Jefferson Avenue. 

Three from The Platform: Baltimore Station 1, The Boulevard, Grand Jefferson

For a while, we've been interested in the work of The Platform, a real-estate company that owns the historic Fisher Building, but also has a decidedly neighborhood-focused portfolio. We've also been closely following several of their developments.

Baltimore Station 1 on Woodward Avenue has been in the works for a while (it was on our list of exciting developments for 2017), but is finally close to completion. The mixed-use development combines two adjacent buildings to create 10,000 square feet of retail space as well as 23 residential units. 

Around the corner in New Center, The Boulevard is slated for completion near the end of 2019. This mixed-use, 200,000-square-foot building right next to Henry Ford Hospital and the Fisher Building is one of the city's most significant new construction projects outside downtown. The finished building will have 231 residential units and 17,500 square feet of retail space. The Platform has also committed to providing 20 percent affordable units at 80 percent area median income. 

Lastly, there's the Jefferson and Grand development, which is on the site of the beloved Big Boy that closed in 2017 right across from Belle Isle. While still in its pre-development phase with no estimated completion date, right now plans are for a mixed-use high rise with 240 residential units.

St. Rita Apartments

We covered this redevelopment and its long, winding financing saga as part of our On the Ground coverage in the North End. After years of false hope, the St. Rita Apartments at last has a Spring 2019 completion date.

"Last occupied some time in the 1990s as subsidized housing, the St. Rita apartments were vacant by the early 2000s," wrote Amy Hetletvedt for Model D. "More than 100 years old, the building will be redeveloped by Central City Integrated Health into 26 units of Permanent Supportive Housing for low-income residents."

The developer also launched a holiday fundraising drive to help furnish the units — a great cause to help support some of Detroit's most vulnerable residents. 

Joe Louis Greenway

This 26-mile loop of trails within the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park is one of the most ambitious non-motorized transit projects being created in any major city in America. It will connect with existing greenways, like the Dequindre Cut and Riverfront, as well as rail lines and other bike paths to complete the loop. 

A lot of progress was made on the Joe Louis Greenway in 2017. The Detroit Greenways Coalition received a grant to renovate 1.4 miles of rail in Highland Park and the city of Detroit purchased 7.4 miles of rail for $4.3 million. 

But 2019 is when the project really kicks into gear. The Ralph A. Wilson Foundation provided a $2 million grant to the city of Detroit to pay for the Framework Plan and design. An RFP was released and the winning firm should be announced early this year. Construction is expected to commence is 2020. 

Motown Museum

Major foundations have spoken: the Motown Museum is an essential symbol of Detroit culture and must become an internationally-renowned space. 

They've made this clear by donating generously to its expansion: $6 million from Ford Motor Co. and UAW-Ford, $2 million from the William Davidson Foundation, $1 million from the Erb Family Foundation, $500,000 from the Hudson-Webber Foundation. And it received another $2.3 million from various funders at the end of 2018. 

All this will go towards an estimated $50 million renovation of the New Center facility that will be built around the current museum and include interactive exhibits, a performance theater, recording studios, and meeting spaces. 

"Our goal is to bring an expanded Motown Museum to the world to inspire dreams and serve as an educational resource for global and local communities, while creating an international mecca of music and entertainment history," said Motown Museum Chairwoman and CEO Robin R. Terry, who spoke to Model D last year.

While there's still a ways to go to reach its funding goal, Terry recently said Hitsville U.S.A. is poised for a big 2019. 

State Fairgrounds

One of the biggest developments by acreage will happen on the State Fairgrounds east of Woodward Avenue and south of 8 Mile Road. Though it's still unclear exactly what will become of the site, expect movement in 2019. 

After progress stalled, in July last year the city of Detroit purchased 90 percent of the 158 acres for $7 million. The rest, two non contiguous parcels totaling 16 acres, were purchased by Magic Plus LLC, Earvin "Magic" Johnson's development company. 

No concrete plans have been announced for the site, though the city has expressed interest in it being an "employment center" with potential funding for residential improvements in nearby neighborhoods. 

Bonus: City of Detroit's planning process

Though it's not strictly development per se, the city of Detroit's planning process will have such wide-reaching effects on development we thought it appropriate for inclusion on this list. 

The city of Detroit's Planning and Development Department is currently in the process of creating, with the help of resident input, no less than 10 neighborhood plans. These frameworks will include streetscape improvements, RFP's for city-owned properties, policy changes like the proposed ordinance in southwest Detroit that would direct truck traffic to strategic roads, park upgrades, and much more. 

Some of these plans will be announced in the near future. But a whole host have just begun or are set to kick off in 2019, including those in Cody Rouge and Jefferson Chalmers. The Cody Rouge plan is taking a unique "child-centric" approach, both in how it incorporates youth in the process and emphasizes amenities for youth like playgrounds and safe neighborhoods. 

Read more articles by Aaron Mondry.

Aaron Mondry is a Detroit-based freelance writer. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @AaronMondry.
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