More Dough for Neighborhoods

Most mornings, Karlene Trump works at the counter of the East Warren Bakery as customers trickle in for coffee, pastries and other treats. The smell of fresh baked goods consumes the small East Side storefront. The problem is that the customer flow is only a trickle, and a modest one at that.

But Trump knows that she's not alone. The region's economic slump is crippling the small business population. More than 9,500 Michigan businesses filed for bankruptcy in the third quarter of 2006, up nearly 3,000 from the first quarter, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.
Trump opened the business in December 2005 along with partner Mark Dahma. They've watched two businesses across the street close in recent weeks. That sobering reality has dampened her optimism, but not her resolve to stay the course and to make things work.
"I have lived in the area for 20 years. I love the area and there's nothing I'd like to see more than the area flourish," says Trump. The pair also run a sandwich shop next door, Michael's In & Out, named for Dahma's son.

Help could be on the way, however, in the form of the city's Re$tore Detroit program, which aims to reinvigorate a targeted number of commercial districts and ultimately resurrect the neighborhoods that surround them.

Critics in recent years have said that city leaders focus too much of their redevelopment attention on downtown, but with this program they are targeting areas outside of the downtown boundaries.

The city's Office of Neighborhood Revitalization recently tapped three organizations to lead the Re$tore Detroit effort in their respective communities — the Greater Corktown Development Corp., the Gratiot-McDougall United Community Development Corp., and East Warren Business United/U-SNAP-BAC.
Re$tore Detroit designees will receive technical assistance and operational support for five years, in hopes of boosting commercial growth and keeping more mom and pop stores open and viable.

"I don't know how much money it'll be or how it will be used, but I hope [the Re$tore Detroit funds] helps," Trump says. "I know that people want us to succeed."

So, apparently, does the city.

The program

The ONCR Re$tore Detroit blueprint centers on establishing committees in each of the districts to tackle safety and cleanliness, promotion, design activities, organizing, and economic restructuring.

Over the course of the next five years the districts will receive a reported $600,000 worth of support.

Trump has participated in the planning process with the East Warren Business United/U-SNAP-BAC group. The applicants have been frustrated by the length of the process and concerned about how grants will be awarded. Finalists for the grants were supposed to be announced at the end of last year.

Part of the delay was due to some funding issues on the part of the applicants.

"The preliminary finalists weren't confirmed initially because they all had financial obligations to meet," says ONCR spokesperson Mara Winter.

The city has committed to spending $400,000 on operational support, $175,000 in façade matching grants, $10,000 in staff and volunteer training, and $15,000 on promotions and marketing support. In return, each of the grant recipients was required to come up with $25,000 in matching money.

The final hurdles were cleared in mid-January, and development work is in progress, which is music to the ears of those who will receive the much-needed backing.

"It's huge. Huge," says Timothy McKay, executive director of the Greater Corktown Development Corp.

Corktown has been one of the city's most popular enclaves, replete in Irish history, and one of the first players in the city's latest renaissance. The neighborhood saw a flood of home renovations and new housing construction in the late 1990s. But since the closure of Tiger Stadium in 1999, the area hasn't seen as much growth, especially the commercial strip along Michigan Avenue, adjacent to the storied ballpark.

McKay hopes the new grant program will be a springboard to a brighter future.
Greater Corktown Development Corp. has been working diligently to draw in businesses. Organizers have realized some wins in the additions of popular attractions like the new Baile Corcaigh restaurant and trendy Slows Bar BQ, but they have been looking to add to the mix, as well as for bigger and better things.

"This (award) is a huge endorsement. It's all about cleaning up and creating a fun, safe environment. By getting ONCR status it endorses this effort and gives us huge credibility," McKay says.

His dream is to look back five years from now and appreciate how the Re$tore Detroit gift allowed his organization to sustain their business-building efforts.
Last year, Greater Corktown, struggled to organize three meetings of its business owners. Now, the organization pulls off meetings every other month. He attributes much of the newfound interest in the participation of area companies in Re$tore Detroit planning. About 80 representatives from Corktown's 120 or so businesses participated in the application process, McKay says.

He expects to use some of the money to get the area's larger employers, like U.S. Post Office and Motor City Casino, involved in bulking up the commercial district, hiring staff and supporting operations.

"We have greater enthusiasm in the district and in our building here," McKay says. "We're also trying to create economic engines that will create jobs. That takes a little bit of thinking, and a little bit of money."
Given the city's transition, Re$tore Detroit could prove to contribute mightily to its latest renaissance. The legion of community builders who have been busily working to pump new life into their neighborhoods are banking on just that. The city chose districts that have had some recent success, but still need help taking their economic development efforts to the next level.

"We can't rest on our laurels. We need to get a clue. There is an economy here to work with. We have to make something happen,"  McKay says.


Karlene Trump with some of her customers

Karlene Trump

East Warren Bakery

Tim McKay of Greater Corktown Development Corp.

Baile Corcaigh, restaurant and pub in Corktown

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger