Remix the Six: Signs of a reinvigorated West McNichols (Six Mile) starting to show

This Street View series on Detroit's commercial corridors is made possible with support from the Ford Foundation.
New bars and restaurants. Mixed-use developments. Small business incubators incubating small businesses. Work to revitalize a stretch of the West McNichols corridor began in earnest several years ago and it’s starting to take root. And while it’s not yet the bustling, vibrant corridor of, say, nearby Livernois and its Avenue of Fashion, those putting the work in think that the buds are starting to blossom. And signs of spring are becoming more and more apparent.

To get a good sense of where the West McNichols corridor is headed, it’s best to be there as school lets out. For all the projects already completed and the many more that are currently underway, it’s those high school students ambling down the sidewalks that will come of age as the revitalization of West McNichols as a commercial corridor takes root to sprout. They’ll be able to take their dates to the planned new restaurants there. They’ll be able to visit the new brewpub in a few years. They can rent an apartment in one of the new mixed-use developments before perhaps buying a home in Bagley and Fitzgerald, the two neighborhoods that West McNichols bisects.

That’s the vision and that’s the plan: revitalizing neighborhoods by way of their commercial corridors. The one mile stretch of West McNichols, from Livernois to Wyoming, is undergoing such a significant transformation that even local residents have come up with a name for the development happening there, one that should make local marketing firms turn their attention to the Bagley and Fitzgerald neighborhoods when hiring their future slogan-makers.

Dr. Geneva J. Williams, executive director of the Live6 Alliance. (Photo courtesy of the Live6 Alliance)“With the evolving of the corridor, our neighbors and residents refer to it as the ‘Remix of the Six,’” says Dr. Geneva J. Williams, executive director of the Live6 Alliance, the nonprofit planning and development organization focused on the communities surrounding the intersection of the West McNichols and Livernois corridors.

For the unaware, West McNichols is known locally as Six Mile. Counting down from 8 Mile, McNichols would indeed be 6 Mile — and it was, for a while, before it was named after Fr. John McNichols following his death in the 1930s. It was McNichols who was responsible for moving the University of Detroit (now the University of Detroit Mercy), where he was then president, from downtown to its campus at Livernois and his namesake road. Still, many Detroiters know McNichols as Six Mile and call it that to this day.

That local residents have come up with the “Remix of the Six” saying on their own is important to Dr. Williams, and demonstrates a buy-in of the corridor’s redevelopment plans. Even the word “remix” is important, its connotations suggesting that what’s happening on 6 Mile is adding to what’s already there, not reinventing it or making it unrecognizable.

“One of the things that we're doing is bringing back and telling those stories of the history of this particular strip; we just had a community conversation on the African American architects who designed and built buildings in the area. We're going to sponsor something with Hawkins Apparel,” Dr. Williams says. The Live6 HomeBase, the organization’s headquarters, operates out of the former Hawkins Apparel storefront, which is widely regarded as Detroit’s first Black-owned women’s apparel store.

“There's a richness and a history and tradition that we're also trying to preserve as we're rebuilding on the West McNichols corridor.”
 

Concentrated investment

Jason Headen and Chase Cantrell have deep ties to the Bagley neighborhood, with Headen having grown up there and Cantrell being a resident for the past five years. Through their business entity Speramus Partners, Headen and Cantrell are deep in the redevelopment of the building at 7400 W. McNichols, a total gut job that is now just a few short months from opening its doors. Cantrell expects to hand the keys to the first tenants come July, and then they can begin their buildout.

7400 W. McNichols today. Developer Chase Cantrell expects the building to be ready for business this July. Its first tenant? A taproom from the Black-owned 734 Brewing Company.
The 8,000 sq. ft. building has already announced its first tenant: Ypsilanti’s 734 Brewing Company, a Black-owned brewery that will open a taproom here. Also planned are two yet-to-be-announced restaurants and a retailer. The fact that the building’s first tenants are Black is an important one, says Cantrell.

Chase Cantrell, co-founder of Speramus Partners. (File photo: David Lewinski)“Six Mile splits Bagley and Fitzgerald, which are overwhelmingly Black neighborhoods. We really wanted this project to reflect the neighborhood,” Cantrell says. “I live in Bagley. I live a few blocks away. Jason grew up in the neighborhood and spent 18 years there. This is close to our hearts. And we want residents in what are Black neighborhoods to feel like this is a Black project that reflects their culture.”

Speramus Partners purchased the building at 7400 W. McNichols from Invest Detroit, a mission-driven lender, investor, and partner. Much of the work happening along the W. McNichols corridor, from Wyoming to Livernois, can be credited to Invest Detroit and the City of Detroit itself, a result of the two parties and their partnership on the Strategic Neighborhood Fund (SNF) initiative. The SNF leverages public and private funding to revitalize 10 neighborhoods throughout the city, focusing on four core components: improving commercial corridors, streetscapes, parks, and housing. This particular stretch of McNichols was identified as a “micro-corridor” where SNF would especially apply its resources.

“McNichols is a great example of what we really try to do: to concentrate this investment so the entire area really pops,” says Carrie Lewand-Monroe, Executive Vice President of Strategy and Programs for Invest Detroit. The construction of Ella Fitzgerald Park, rehabbing homes in the Fitzgerald neighborhood, making significant streetscape improvements, and facilitating developments like Headen and Cantrell’s are all part of a larger plan. Another SNF-backed mixed-use project, the Sawyer Art Apartments, which is also a Black-led development, will only bolster the strategy.

“It's about weaving all of those investments together to uplift the entire community.”

7303 W. McNichols today. The buildings here will be razed to build the block-long Sawyer Art Apartments mixed-use development.
A rendering of The Sawyer Art Apartments, a $10.8 million mixed-use development with 38 apartments and more than 6,000 sq. ft. of commercial space. The building is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.
Same book, different chapters

While much of the groundwork to revitalize the commercial corridor has been laid, it might be a few years yet until the corridor is teeming with small businesses. But it is starting to change. The Detroit Pizza Bar, another SNF-backed project, recently celebrated its grand opening. It nestles among some more established businesses; Detroit Sip coffee shop, Lucki’s Cheesecakes, and the Metro Detroit Barber College all opened over the past decade and a half. And there are some classics still here, too, like Lou’s Deli, which first opened in 1960.

The Live6 Alliance continues its work in the corridor from the community on up, which it’s been doing since the organization first formed in 2015. They celebrated the opening of their HomeBase headquarters in 2019, and built a pocket park with programming across the street. They’re working with Invest Detroit to open a small business incubator soon, too. That should open within the year, Dr. Williams says.
Work is underway to build a small business incubator at 7434 W. McNichols, a partnership between Invest Detroit and the Live6 Alliance.
“I'm excited that things are beginning to open. I hope that we can have a real vibrancy where you may go for one thing, but you'll stay on the corridor and be able to go from building to building,” Cantrell says. “That's really what I hope that we're able to create. And I feel like we're not there yet. But I think in the next three to five years, it will feel like that.”

West McNichols today remains a little quiet during the week, save for those few windows a day when students go to and from class. But already students and residents are benefitting from the work being put into the corridor.
 

An SNF streetscape project widened sidewalks, built protected bike lanes, and installed improved bus stops along the stretch, making it safer and easier to get to and from their classes at the Marygrove Conservancy. That conservancy itself was formed in 2018 to further the legacy of Marygrove College, which ceased operations in 2019. Today, the 53-acre campus at West McNichols and Wyoming offers a “cradle-to-career” education, from pre-school through high school; a small business incubator helps launch entrepreneurs.
The gates to Marygrove College, a 53-acre campus now run by the Marygrove Conservancy.
West McNichols as a commercial corridor is experiencing a rejuvenation. It’s not there yet, as developers like Cantrell attest, but the past few years and plans for the next several give us a sense of what’s to come. All you have to do is turn the corner and head down a lively Livernois Avenue — the Avenue of Fashion, also an SNF-targeted corridor — and you can get a feel for what’s building here.

“If you can remember just a short five years ago, you probably wouldn't have used the word ‘vibrant’ to describe Livernois. And I think that's what development or redevelopment is about,” Dr. Williams says. “You start planting the seeds, you start looking for funding and other partners in how you can leverage opportunities, and then you begin to build and grow. And during that process, make sure you include residents and neighbors and businesses, focus on the stakeholders who will be impacted by the dreams that you know folks have, and then you build and build and build. And when you turn around and look back, that's when you can really see the progress and how far you've come. 

“I really think West McNichols may seem different than Livernois today, but I think it's the same. I think it's in the same book. They may be different chapters, but it’s the same book: revitalizing the commercial corridors, which in turn will help revitalize neighborhoods.”

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

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