Revitalizing Neighborhoods: Midtown Detroit

May 23, 2011 32 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville explores a neighborhood with a goal of attracting 15,000 young professionals by 2015: Midtown Detroit.

About Midtown Detroit

The Midtown neighborhood of Detroit is a mixed-use area in Detroit, located along each side of Woodward Avenue between Downtown Detroit and the New Center. The community is bounded by the Chrysler Freeway (I-75) on the east, the Lodge Freeway (M-10) on the west, the Edsel Ford Freeway (I-94) on the north, and the Fisher Freeway (I-75) on the south.  The Midtown area is a general mixed-use neighborhood, containing an accumulation of structures representing the successive waves of development that have transformed the area multiple times since it was first platted. The neighborhood is dominated by the thoroughfare of Woodward Avenue, which runs north and south through the heart of Midtown. The vibrant area includes several Historic Districts, Detroit Medical Center, and Wayne State University.

Group aims for 15,000 young professionals in Midtown area by 2015

If 15 by 15, a coordinated effort by the three anchor employers in Detroit's Midtown area to bring 15,000 young, educated people to greater downtown by 2015, is successful, it could become a national model.

The effort is the first nationally to put a stake in the ground and set some measurable markers around its goal to attract young people, and it is one of the first such efforts with anchor institutions working collaboratively, according to the Chicago-based nonprofit CEOs for Cities.

Wayne State University, Henry Ford Health System and the Detroit Medical Center in May began meeting to explore ways they could work together to spur more development in Midtown to make it a place young people find attractive.

Joining them at the table is the Detroit-based Hudson-Webber Foundation, the impetus for the effort and an investor in Midtown for more than 20 years.

The four are members of the Detroit affiliate of CEOs for Cities, a nonprofit network of business, nonprofits and mayors dedicated to building and sustaining the next generation of great American cities.

Wayne State University is Michigan's only urban research university, located in the heart of Detroit's University Cultural Center

•  13 schools and colleges that offer more than 400 major subject areas
•  27,825 graduate and undergraduate students
•  203 acre campus

Wayne State University's Bonstelle Theatre on Woodward Avenue.  The 1200 seat broadway-style theatre where the undergraduate company performs was originally built in 1902 as the Temple Beth-El.

Wayne State University's Old Main building was constructed in 1895 as Detroit's Central High School.  The building was given to the Detroit Junior College in 1926 when high school functions were relocated.  In 1934, the college would be renamed Wayne University and Wayne State University in 1956.

The Detroit Institute of Arts has been a beacon of culture for the Detroit area for well over a century. Founded in 1885, the museum was originally located on Jefferson Avenue, but, due to its rapidly expanding collection, moved to a larger site on Woodward Avenue in 1927. The new Beaux-Arts building, designed by Paul Cret, was immediately referred to as the "temple of art." Two wings were added in the 1960s and 1970s, and a major renovation and expansion that began in 1999 was completed in 2007.

The museum covers 658,000 square feet that includes more than 100 galleries, a 1,150-seat auditorium, a 380-seat lecture/recital hall, an art reference library, and a state-of-the-art conservation services laboratory.

The Detroit Historical Society's (DHS) historical museum and headquarters at 5401 Woodward.  Established in 1921, the DHS's mission is to educate and inspire the community and its visitors by preserving and portraying the region's shared history through dynamic exhibits and experiences.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra entered a new era on October 11, 2003 with the opening of the Max M. Fisher Music Center. The $60 million project, nicknamed “The Max,” created a new music center complex consisting of the restored and modernized Orchestra Hall and a 135,000-square-foot facility that includes The Music Box, a 450-seat second performance hall with variable configurations, and the 15,000-square-foot Jacob Bernard Pincus Music Education Center, which supports the DSO’s youth ensembles and other educational activities.

An important component of the Orchestra Place was the completion of the hall restoration process begun in 1970, which included the installation of an historically accurate iron awning and marquee, as recreated from early photographs.

The opening of The Max marks the completion of Phase II of the three-phase Orchestra Place Development Project launched in 1996. To support the refurbished Orchestra Hall, Phase II also includes a new 18,000-square-foot back-of-house facility with dressing rooms, space for instrument and equipment storage, and two floors of administrative support space. There is 17,000-square-feet of lobby space, featuring a soaring four-story atrium.

Phase III, completed in 2005, is the Detroit School for the Arts. Situated next to The Max, the new $122.5 million “magnet” public high school and broadcast technology complex is part of a unique partnership between the DSO, the Detroit Public Schools System and Detroit Public Television. The school features a state-of-the-art digital telecommunications center with production studios, and broadcast studios for WDTR-FM, the radio station of the school system.

Detroit School of Arts

Max M. Fisher Music Center

The Detroit Medical Center has more than 2,000 licensed beds, 3,000 affiliated physicians and over 12,000 employees. The DMC is the affiliated clinical research site for medical program at Wayne State University. Several Detroit Medical Center hospitals are staffed by physicians from the Wayne State University School of Medicine, the largest single-campus medical school in the United States, and the nation’s fourth largest medical school overall.

They want to create the elements that make for a vital region and attract young professionals: mass transportation, retail development, education, housing, public safety and beautification.

Each anchor employer is doing its own to improve the Midtown area, but by themselves, each institution can only go so far, said Bill Schramm, senior vice president at Henry Ford Health System.

Coordinating their efforts will give them greater impact in further revitalization of Midtown, he said.

The group's initial efforts are on low-hanging fruit, including coordinating public safety efforts to make the area safer, shuttle services for better transportation, and workforce development to provide jobs for WSU's students at Henry Ford and DMC.

The 75-unit Willys Overland Lofts building was constructed in 1917 as a five-story showroom and garage.

All three have a vested interest in revitalizing Midtown to attract students, patients, employees and other visitors and customers.

Ultimately, the premise of 15 by 15 is that people like to live near where they work, Noren said. And people won't choose to live in a neighborhood unless they feel it is safe.

WSU, Henry Ford and DMC are working with the Detroit Police Department to to reduce crime in Midtown (See story at right.). Just two months after its launch, the effort by late July had already had success, reducing crime in four targeted Midtown neighborhoods by 30 percent overall and in Midtown as a whole by 10 percent.

The anchor institutions are not as far along yet in identifying other areas of collaboration, but they are also discussing how they can align their shuttle services to give those working, learning, playing and living in Midtown more efficient, convenient and expanded services, Noren said.

The effort will have the positive side effect of orientating people to public transit in advance of the light rail planned for Woodward, he said.

Young people “provide vitality and energy, stimulate independent, small commercial activity, (and) are a powerful economic force in a neighborhood,” Mosey said.

They tend to be interested in a lot of city activity, with walkable neighborhoods and public transportation, among other things, she said.

There are elements of all of that in other parts of the city, but the WSU and CCS campuses, all of the investment in Midtown, the nearby cultural institutions and professional sports venues are attractive to younger adults. Other potential draws include planned greenways and light rail in development for Woodward Avenue.

“Everybody is working toward creating a neighborhood or place where there's enough of all this activity that it really then becomes an attractor.”

Cass Technical High School is a four year college prep school named in honor of Lewis Cass, an American military officer and politician who served as governor of the Michigan Territory from 1813 until 1831.

The Detroit Masonic Temple was completed in 1926.

“If (you) can make this work in Detroit, it stands as a very important model for others around the country.”

Over the next five years, Midtown Detroit is an area that urban Jacksonville should definitely keep an eye on.

Article by Ennis Davis