5 Detroit developments to watch in 2021

The pandemic brought development to a halt in 2020. Toward the end of the year, construction picked up again, with new projects coming online. As we navigate this period of recovery toward what is hopefully a post-pandemic Detroit in 2021, here are some of the projects on our radar.


Ford’s Mobility Innovation District in Corktown


In November, Ford Motor Co. unveiled its multiyear plan for a 30-acre walkable community, with the centerpiece a renovated Michigan Central Station. In addition to what it touts as a first-of-its-kind mobility testing platform for innovators, startups, entrepreneurs, and others from around the world to develop, test, and launch mobility solutions, the site plan also calls for more public amenities such as green spaces, and walking and biking trails, as well as a grocery store and day care facility.


In addition to the train station, these buildings play a key role in the development: the Albert Kahn-designed Book Depository, which sits adjacent to the station and is being revitalized into a maker space by architecture firm Gensler; Building West, a new construction to the west of the station; and The Factory, which is already home to 250 members of Ford’s autonomous vehicle business unit.


The automaker announced plans to restore the iconic train station, which fell into disrepair after it was abandoned in the late 1980s, in 2018. Work on the Book Depository and Bagley Parking Hub is expected to begin in the first quarter of this year, with both buildings estimated to open early next year. Michigan Central Station is currently in the middle of phase two of the restoration, with completion expected by the end of 2022.


In addition to how the open space around the district is reimagined, we’ll also be watching how the surrounding communities are impacted and how neighbors’ concerns are addressed.


Development of Michigan State Fairgrounds

In October, the Detroit City Council OK’d the sale of the state fairgrounds to developers Sterling Group and Hillwood Enterprises. Of the 142 acres, 78 acres will be leased by online behemoth Amazon for a new $400 million distribution center. Also part of the deal is the construction of a new transit center to replace the current one. The city of Detroit will get a total of $16 million in proceeds from the sale, with approximately $1.2 million going to the Affordable Housing Development and Preservation Fund.


The deal drew strong reaction on social media and from the public, both for and against. Transit blogger David Gifford wrote an open letter to Amazon asking that the historic bandshell, which has played host to the likes of legendary musicians from Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington to Chaka Khan and Bob Dylan (and so much more, if you want to fall down a rabbit hole of musical icons click here), be spared.


The Love Building

Allied Media Projects broke ground on its new headquarters in Core City in the fall. Should construction remain on track, the Love Building will reopen in September 2021. AMP has assembled a group of nonprofits that will soon create a one-building campus of Detroit social justice efforts, organizations that aim to “dismantle a harmful system.” While the top three floors will largely remain dedicated to its nonprofit tenants, the first floor will serve as a community space for hosting events, meetings, and other activities for neighborhood groups.


Joe Louis Greenway

This 26-mile loop of trails within the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park will connect with existing greenways, like the Dequindre Cut and Riverfront, as well as rail lines and other bike paths to complete the loop.


As we reported in October, after more than a decade of planning, work on the former Conrail property is set to begin this spring, the first dedicated construction on a route that will connect existing and planned trails throughout Detroit. The former rail line is the linchpin that will now enable completion of the Joe Louis Greenway, a planned 32-mile non-motorized loop through the city, over the next 10 to 15 years.


"This is going to be a new way to connect [Detroiters] and help bring them down to the riverfront," Meagan Elliott, Detroit's chief parks planner, told us at the time. "... It's the kind of catalytic project that has every possible avenue of import, and it's just about holding all of those pieces together and making it happen the right way. I'm really excited about it."


Dreamtroit development

“Dreamtroit” is a major redevelopment venture of artists Matt Naimi and Oren Goldenberg, the owners of the Recycle Here! and Lincoln Street Art Park complex. As Sarah Williams reported in October, their goal is to combat displacement of artists and to preserve culture in the neighborhood where Naimi’s fostered a creative and green-minded community around a factory ruin and a garbage dump (as he fondly puts it) since 2005.


Bonus: Two development stories

While the following two aren’t specific projects, these are important issues that we’ll be keeping an eye on this year.


Affordable housing

Housing is considered affordable when housing costs do not exceed 30% of a household’s monthly income, and it’s become an increasingly significant issue in the city over the years. In October, we reported on how five residential projects, three new developments and two redevelopments, will either create or preserve a total of 282 units of affordable housing throughout different areas of the city.


“The five unique developments will further our goal of producing and preserving good quality affordable apartments for individuals, families, and seniors with low and moderate incomes, while helping support the city’s social and economic development goals,” Chad Benson, MSHDA acting director of development, said at the time.


In August, David Sands reported in our Resilient Neighborhoods series how CDOs are ensuring vacant properties are remade into affordable homes, including Woodbridge Neighborhood Development’s redevelopment of a former bank and a former school and how GenesisHope is playing an active role in the development conversation in Islandview.

Proposal N

While it's not a specific project, Proposal N entails 16,000 homes in the city of Detroit and will still have a huge impact on the future of the city and residents. The $250 million bond plan, which calls for the renovation of 8,000 and razing of 8,000 homes, passed overwhelmingly in the November election, but some residents who wrote to Model D after its passage were critical that of the proposal, saying it’s just another tax increase on Detroiters, many of whom are paying too much taxes on their houses already.

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