The ongoing white-out of Detroit: over 800 largely Black Brush Park residents were driven out from late 90’s through recent years
Only 20 percent of housing in new $70 million plan for “low-income” residents
Dan Gilbert’s 8.4 acre project part of 30 acre Brush Park plan including Brewster Wheeler Rec Center, Brewster Douglass site
Rec Center awarded to suburbanite whites Curt Catallo, Keith Crain
By Diane Bukowski
March 14, 2015
DETROIT – Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, with his crony Steve Rosenthal of billionaire Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate Services, announced a $70 million plan May 6 to re-develop 8.4 acres of Detroit’s 100-acre Brush Park neighborhood. So far, the price the developers are paying for the land, which is adjacent to downtown, mostly city-owned and “primarily vacant,” has not been disclosed.
The plan still must be approved by the Detroit City Council, a mere formality since the state-appointed Detroit Financial Review Team (DFRT) still dictates what the city’s elected leaders do under terms of the city’s bankruptcy. Ironically, one member of the “Brush Park Redevelopment Partners” (BPDP) handling the project is Darrell Burks, who sits on the DFRT.
During a press conference, the developers said they will rehab four historic mansions and build 337 units of housing for sale and rent, as well as retail and green space. They announced that home mortgages will be available through Gilbert’s Quicken Loans, currently being sued by the federal government for fraudulent lending practices.
“I love these old houses, and I love seeing them restored,” Duggan said. “The city let too many of these treasures go. This is a red-letter day. People will want to live here.”
Only 20 percent of the housing would be set aside for “low-income” residents, with a household income of $21,060, 80 percent of the city’s average median income. Detroit families have a 39 percent poverty rate, with children at 59 percent. Only families with 4 or more members could meet even that income rate.
The 8.4 acre BPDP redevelopment is only part of the complete “white-out” of Brush Park and its history.
Duggan earlier announced a $50 million redevelopment of the former Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center in Brush Park, with a restaurant, 150 residential units, and retail stores. That project has been awarded to restaurateur Curt Catallo of Clarkston, Michigan, and Keith Crain of Crain Communications, who has dozens of prestigious addresses ranging from Bloomfield Hills, MI to Vero Beach, FL.
The city also plans to redevelop the 18 acres of land where the former Brewster Douglass housing projects stood, for a total of 30 acres of land. The last of the Douglass high rises were demolished in 2014, completing the goals of President Bill Clinton’s “HOPE VI” plan which has razed low-income housing across the U.S.
“They’ve come out with a lot of plans and allocated a lot of money over the years, but all I’ve seen is people chased out, and the neighborhood burnt up,” said Gwen Mingo, a Brush Park resident renowned for the long battle she waged in the late’s 90’s and 2000’s to save the homes and apartments of predominantly Black residents in her district.
“It was my obligation as head of the Brush Park Citizens District Council to fight to protect the rights of everyone living in that district,” she said.
Mingo was also chair of the city-wide CDC panel.
It is estimated that over 800 mostly Black residents living in both homes and apartment buildings there were driven out during that period. City officials and developers used tactics ranging from de-funding of the CDC’s, mass evictions, arson, asbestos contamination, arrests (Mingo herself faced ongoing harassment by the police), and likely even murder.
Former Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr abolished the CDC’s in October, 2014 with a stroke of his bankruptcy pen, replacing them with neighborhood “managers” appointed by the mayor. His action was part of a long assault on the CDC’s which began during the Archer administration, which included de-funding and other strategies.
But, Mingo said, “They still can’t re-design the area without our input. They’ve never approached me or sent me a letter about the new plan. They know I’m still here. This is illegal. Anytime they develop an area, they are supposed to consult with anybody in a certain radius. They’re just tearing up and banking the land and it’s going to be a disaster once again.”
Gilbert already owns over 70 parcels of prime downtown Detroit property, most of them as yet incompletely developed. Of those that are complete, most, marked by “Opportunity Detroit” signs, are still unoccupied.
Mingo lives in a historic home on Watson, adjacent to the parcel targeted by the Gilbert consortium. She said the devastation of the original Brush Park neighborhood began in in the 1970’s and even before.
She noted Brush Park boundaries originally extended west of Woodward and east of I-75 to include the fabled Paradise Valley of Black-owned businesses and entertainment venues, parts of the “Black Bottom” neighborhood, occupied by Black participants in “The Great Migration” from the south beginning in the 1920’s, and the Brewster-Douglass apartments and townhomes, the first housing project built to provide decent housing for Blacks in the U.S., under the auspices of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Reporter Ron Seigel chronicled the city’s deliberate devastation of the remainder of Brush Park in an extraordinary series in the now-defunct Michigan Citizen. He describes what happened in a companion article for the Voice of Detroit (shortly to come). Meanwhile a chronological compilation of his articles is available in a link below this story.
In contrast, the City’s Request for Proposal (RFP) on the project claims, “The 1960’s saw the Brush Park neighborhood substantially deteriorate, with a high incidence of vacancy, crime, and abandonment with subsequent demolition. Since the mid 1990’s the City of Detroit has initiated an aggressive campaign in order to save the remaining historic properties, and to promote historically influenced residential infill of the vacant land left by demolition.”
That “historically influenced” infill has so far included the blandly modern Crosswinds Communities condominiums lining Woodward, built by notorious real estate mogul Bernie Glieberman, who defaulted on $100 million in corporate loans in 2009.
According to the project RFP, the city has invested $39 million over the last 13 years in Brush Park, “inclusive of infrastructure, demolition, acquisition and historic rehabilitation,” Mingo, however, states that figure is more likely in the hundreds of millions.
BPDP, however, is spending a mere $7.8 million on the project. Duggan denied the project is getting tax credits, so the remaining financing is still a mystery.
In addition to principal Steve Rosenthal, the BPDP also includes:
- Marvin Beatty, a board member of the Greektown Casino owned by Gilbert;
- Sam Thomas of Star Development, involved with the Whirlpool Corporation in the ongoing takeover of public land in Benton Harbor;
- Darrell Burks, a member of the state-appointed Detroit Financial Review Commission, whose authority supersedes that of Detroit’s elected officials;
- Freman Hendrix, CEO of Advanced Security & Investigative Solutions, which includes former local, regional and federal law enforcement agents;
- Pamela Rodgers, president of Rodgers Chevrolet and a member of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy board, which controls much of the city’s east riverfront land.
“This neighborhood goes back to early 1800’s and used to be called Little Paris,” Charlie Beckham, Duggan’s group executive for Detroit neighborhoods, said during the press conference. “You see some of the architectural renderings and motifs on the buildings here. We’re going to try to maintain that. Hopefully the families of Brush and Adelaide and Edmund and a lot of the names that you see on the streets right here will be happy with what we’re doing.”
Joe Foster, a major Black landholder in Brush Park through the late 20th century, must have been ready to rise up from his grave at Beckham’s remarks. He and his fiancée were murdered in 1997 in cases that have never been solved. Many felt their deaths were linked to a land grab by whites abetted by the city government.
Beckham’s comments were historically inaccurate. According to various records, Edmund Brush, the wealthy son of Elijah Brush, the second mayor of Detroit in 1806, developed the area for the city’s “elite” citizens, naming the streets Edmund, Alfred, Adelaine and Brush after his family members.
Elijah Brush held African Peter Denison in indentured servitude for a year. When he tried to free him, Denison’s “owner” Catherine Tucker appealed, winning a decision by Judge Augustus Woodward which upheld slavery status for all who had been kidnapped before 1796, when the British turned the Michigan Territory over to the U.S.
Denison became a prominent leader, heading a Black militia that fought alongside U.S. forces and Native Americans against British forces in the War of 1812, then migrating to Canada, where he was no longer considered a “slave.”
During the press conference, Duggan thrust Mona Ross, of the Brush Park Community Development Corporation (also known as a CDC), into the spotlight, falsely claiming it was the first time neighborhood representatives have been involved in planning new developments.
Ross, who runs a bed and breakfast out of one of Brush Park’s historic mansions, gave thanks to God, then to Duggan, Gilbert, and other BPDP partners, for the opportunity.
“This is nothing but identity theft,” Mingo reacted. “They are making people think the Citizens District Council is involved because of the same initials, but a Development Corporation is not an elected or governmental agency. It’s a private corporation.”
Brush Park articles 1995 to 2004 Michigan Citizen Ron Seigel
This article has some serious factual errors and accusations:
1. I was elected to the Brush Park Citizens District Council in 2013 (have the certificate from the city clerk). I’ve never heard of Gwen Mingo. Since I was elected she was not a member of the District Council. Records of Citizen District Council members are easily obtained from the election office on W. Grand Blvd.
2. The Emergency Manager effectively disbanded all of the City’s Citizen’s District Councils when he eliminated the Urban Renewal Development Plans (P.A. 344). As of March 2015. Citizen’s District Council’s no longer existed. Since this was a change of law a.k.a public record, not sure how you missed this one.
3. In December 2014, the same elected representatives from the Brush Park Citizen’s District Council reorganized as the Brush Park Community Development Corporation (CDC). I am also member of the Brush Park CDC. The CDC continues to be the primary community interface with the City and developers on development projects in Brush Park. Feel free to visit our website, http://www.BrushParkCDC.org , which can be found with a google search.
If you intend to have a credible news source, please consider some basic fact checking before posting your articles.
No, Gwen Mingo was not a member of the Citizens’ District Council in 2013 and afterwards. She WAS chair of the CDC in the early years of the 2000’s and previously. You haven’t been keeping up with the news over the last decade if you’ve never heard of Gwen Mingo. (See pdf link to Ron Seigel’s articles from the Michigan Citizen at end of story. She still lives in Brush Park. Maybe you should go meet her since you claim to be a member of the “Brush Park Community Development Corporation. Such CDC’s are non-elected independent non-profits NOT related to the Citizens’ District Councils, which were elected. You are the one who needs to do some basic fact-checking about the history of Brush Park.
Hello i am charnell foster the eldest grandchild to Mr. Joseph and Evie Nell Foster. Im reading this article and i most admit that i am very upset of you all not checking for correct details in to your story. My grandparents were married over decades amd together the conceived three children which the oldest preceeding my grandfather im death so for ypu to MISPRINT that my grandfather was engaged to one of many business partners is ridiculous.. yes i hope ms. Bernice johnson rest peacefully but before u start printing false statements without checking the details with family and love ones srill grieving is riduculous… my gtandparents wouldnt have gotten a divorce in the worst dream.. before my grandfather was taken from us they just purchases a home together was remodling the home they stayed in and was planning a vow renewal although my gtandmother had just overcome a brain anyerism and stroke… fpr now on check your details the best information is the correct information.. have a beautiful day
I am sorry if there was confusion regarding the relationship between Joseph Foster and Bernice Johnson. These details have earlier been reported in other news articles, including in the Michigan Citizen. I had no way to contact your family directly. Also, I do not know if you speak for the entire family or are who you say you are. This is mainly because I wonder why you do not seem to be concerned about the fact that the Detroit police have never solved your grandfather’s murder. I would think that would be uppermost in your mind. Isn’t the family pursuing an answer to this matter?
This is Joseph Foster eldest grandson , my sister Charnell is 100% correct and Yes are family have plenty of unanswered question well love to know who murdered my grandfather that’ll bring so much closesure and peace to my family. We would also like to know what happen to all that property, we believe everything that was taken from us was wrongfully taken. IF THERE’S ANYBODY OUT THERE THAT COULD ACTUALLY HELP US GET SOME KIND OF ANSWERS WE’LL BE FOREVER GRATEFUL
THIS ARTICLE IS “RIGHT ON TIME”!!
WHEN WILL WE WAKE UP?? THEY CAN’T WIN WITHOUT ***”THE BLACK SIGNATURES” OF “THE BLACK PEN”***??
THESE “STAGED LAND AGREEMENTS” AMOUNT TO NOTHING MORE THAN ***MODERN DAY TREATIES*** AND WE ALL KNOW HOW “CORPORATE AMERICA” HAS HONORED “TREATIES FOR MINORITIES” (Native Americans) WHO ONCE OCCUPIED THIS SAME LAND THAT WE ARE AGAIN SIGNING AWAY OUR RIGHTS TO JUST LIKE WE DID IN OUR PAST HISTORY SO WHY ARE WE STILL SIGNING THEM ??????????????????