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.
- 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.”