Holden Block development could signal the shape of things to come in Northwest Goldberg

Stand at the corner of Holden Street, where Trumbull Avenue becomes Lincoln Street, and the NW Goldberg neighborhood begins to reveal hints of transformation — and in not so subtle ways.

There is the familiar Detroit institutions like the Destroy Compound workspace, Lincoln Street Art Park, and the Recycle Here! facility. Travel a block west down Holden and you’ll find the popular music club Marble Bar.

But stand at the aforementioned intersection — where Trumbull dead-ends into the longstanding construction barriers of Lincoln Street, an infrastructure improvement project that itself demonstrates increasing investment in the neighborhood, and, in the shadow of the still-under construction six-story 187,000-square-foot Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion for the Henry Ford Health System and its Henry Ford Cancer Institute — and change becomes difficult to miss.

To the southwest stands ArtBlock, which opened this summer in a building that previously held a party store, marijuana dispensary, and was most recently vacant. Funded by Henry Ford Health System and the Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation, ArtBlock is a community center with a heavy emphasis on the arts, featuring numerous murals, installations, and sculptures.

To the northeast is the multi-tenant complex at 1314 Holden St., which celebrated its opening in late summer. With a heavy emphasis on job creation and socially conscious businesses, the $2.3 million redevelopment project could signal the shape of things to come in Northwest Goldberg.

Grasso Holdings, the Philadelphia-based company that purchased and redeveloped the building, purchased the property from Henry Ford Health System. A major landholder in NW Goldberg, HFHS has committed to fostering growth in its surrounding neighborhood. Creating and sustaining healthy communities is part of the health system’s mission, says Thomas Habitz, urban planning specialist for the organization, and that’s why HFHS is continuing to invest in planning, real estate, and partnerships in this area.

The redevelopment of the buildings that make up what’s being referred to as the Holden Block is just the beginning. Grasso has already announced plans to build a five-story mixed-use development next door, estimated to cost around $12 million. Located at the corner of Lincoln and Wilbur streets, the development will feature 44 residential units and ground-floor retail. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2020.

The two developments represent HFHS and Grasso’s shared vision of a 24-hour neighborhood by creating jobs as well as providing amenities like bars, restaurants, and places to live.

“(Henry Ford Health System wants) to see housing introduced into the neighborhood and they want to see a place for their employees to grab a cup of coffee, get their dry-cleaning done. We want to try and pull people that work at the hospital into the neighborhood,” says Sam Sherman, one of the developers of the project.

‘Bigger plans for the neighborhood’

Social entreprises Rebel Nell and York Project opened their shared brick and mortar at Holden Block in late summer.

The Holden Block development itself is the sort of hodgepodge of buildings typical of early 20th century Detroit.

Farthest from the intersection is the oldest. Built around 1911, Sherman believes it to have been an assembly line for the Lincoln Motor Company — before Ford’s purchase of the company. A second building, likely a boiler assembly plant, was built next door in the 1930s. Several years after that, two Holden Street-facing storefronts were attached, linking the buildings. Eventually, the alleyway would be roofed over. Grasso themselves would go on to roof over the alleyway between the former boiler plant and storefront, adding an ADA-compliant ramp.

Sharing the old boiler production space are two kindred spirits of the Detroit fashion world, Rebel Nell and York Project. The two companies house their production facilities on either end of the building and share a retail space in the middle. The companies moved from the old Ponyride space in Corktown to Holden Block, celebrating their grand opening this past August.

It’s a friendship that makes sense for the two companies. Rebel Nell repurposes flakes of graffiti into wearable fashion, making it their mission to employ and educate Detroit women facing employment barriers. York Project designs and produces their own line of streetwear, committed to employing Detroiters while providing donation kits — socks, bottled water, and toilet paper — to the homeless for each purchase made.

“When we saw the building initially, we were instantly in love. The exposed bricks, the lighting. The neighborhood is a good fit and feel for us,” says Amy Peterson, co-founder and CEO of Rebel Nell.

“We’ve kind of always been a brand that’s been off the beaten path but likes to fit in with neighborhoods and be involved. And all the graffiti here, too. It just worked really well with what we wanted to. And when these guys said there are bigger plans for the neighborhood, we said, ‘OK, we’re on board.’ ”

Located in the oldest part of the complex is the future home of Commonwealth Sewing Company, the latest venture from Max Schmidt of custom suit maker 1701 Bespoke. Commonwealth will manufacture shirts using automated technology and provide contract cutting services for local businesses, including their neighbors York Project.

For Schmidt, the company serves in his mission to bring clothing production back to the United States, and specifically Detroit; from off-shore to on-shore, he says. Schmidt is working with community groups to provide job training and will connect them to other opportunities if he can’t hire them himself. Schmidt expects to hire 35 employees once he’s fully up and running.

“We want to help people in the area. If they want to learn how to sew or get a job in the industry, they can come in and we’ll show them around and connect them with a job after training,” he says.

Both storefronts are under construction. The infrastructure is in place, though repairs and restoration work are still underway. The larger, western space is pegged for a coffee shop; Sherman is talking to cafés in Lansing and Grand Rapids, though a tenant announcement is not yet ready.

Tenants for the eastern storefront have been confirmed. The fashion, music, branding, print, and merchandise collective Filthy Americans will occupy the space. The brand is popular at home and among celebrities like Snoop Dogg, he boasts. The storefront will act as a store but also serve as a broadcast studio for a weekly podcast.

‘We want to become part of the community’

With a heavy emphasis on job creation and socially conscious businesses, Holden Block’s tenants include Rebel Nell and York Project as well as Commonwealth Sewing Company and Filthy Animals.

And that’s not even all of it. Tacked on to the side of the building is an enormous, empty shell of a room, complete with a second-floor mezzanine and 34-foot-high ceilings. Already in possession of a liquor license, Sherman envisions a brewery and restaurant for the space, and a beer garden outside. Maybe they can host outdoor movie nights on the building’s wall. He’s also kicking around the idea of a music club, though one that features live music so as to serve as a complement, rather than compete, with Marble Bar’s EDM leanings.

All told, the developers are projecting 150 to 175 jobs to come out of Holden Block, including the planned coffee shop and brewery. They’re working with community groups like West Grand Boulevard Collective to provide access to job training and workforce pipelines, hoping to draw as many workers from the surrounding neighborhood as they can.

“We want to become part of the community. We’re looking forward to multiple projects there and we don’t want to be seen as interlopers. There are a lot of multigenerational residents; becoming a partner is the right thing to do,” says David Grasso of Grasso Holdings.

“We’re the change. We hope we can be positive, but we’re change nonetheless.”

When it comes to such developments, Grasso Holdings has tried to engage the community. Sherman sought out community leaders before they bought the building, he says, understanding how members of the community might feel about a group of developers from Philadelphia coming into their neighborhood. Sherman asked leaders what they thought about the development, what they would like to see.

What they heard: affordable housing, jobs, and amenities.

The Holden Block is the first private development in Detroit to have negotiated a community benefits agreement. For their mixed-use development planned for the empty lot next to the Holden Block, Grasso and WGBC came to agreement on a number of terms.

One of the big ones is affordable housing. Nine of the 44 rental units will be deemed “affordable,” somewhere in the ballpark of $750 and $800 a month. But unlike other developments that base the affordable housing rates against the metro region’s median income, the Grasso development will base it against the City of Detroit’s median income, a considerably lower number that makes the units that much more affordable. According to census data, the city’s median income for 2013-17 was $28,000.

“Community benefit agreements are very important because a lot of tax dollars go into these developments. And they can become large disruptions of our communities. When there’s a disruption you need to make sure that it’s worth it and the benefits are equitable,” says Mildred Hunt-Robbins, president of the West Grand Boulevard Collective.

“You have to make sure that developers are good neighbors with interests bigger than their business, that they want to become part of the community and work toward the betterment of the community as a whole.”

This article is part of our Equitable Development series, in partnership with Henry Ford Health System, where we explore neighborhood progress and impact of Henry Ford Health System and community partners. Stories illustrate growing an inclusive Detroit in a way that allows people from all races, classes, and abilities to participate and benefit.

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