Detroit is shaking off the doldrums of the Great Recession and the painful process of bankruptcy. Fueled by a renewed interest in locating businesses in Detroit, the entire metropolitan region’s real estate market is worth talking about again. And in the city itself, some neighborhoods are starting to make a comeback.
3 Hot City Neighborhoods*
*That aren’t Midtown or Corktown
Even the New York Times seems to have gotten over its “surprise” that Midtown and Corktown are hot, hot, hot. But here’s the 3-1-3 on some of Detroit’s other neighborhoods and programs that are getting some well-deserved attention.
Nestled on the city’s east side, within biking distance of Belle Isle, downtown, and Eastern Market, West Village has become a hot spot for emerging Detroit entrepreneurs and young families. Streets once lined with boarded-up buildings and broken street lights have found new opportunities; the last year has seen the opening of various establishments, including The Red Hook Detroit coffee shop, Craft Work, Paramita Sound, and Parker Street Market. Intertwined with these new businesses are institutions, architecture, and neighbors who have been there for generations.
Located just west of the prestigious Indian Village, the neighborhood boundaries are Kercheval Avenue, Parker Street, East Jefferson Avenue, and Seyburn Street. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, and a majority of the neighborhood buildings were constructed between 1890 and 1920. Most of the homes are multifamily, with opportunities to rent condos and apartments. Last year, it was announced $1 million would be invested into the historic West Village Manor, which contains 16 high-rise apartments, and street-level businesses including Detroit Vegan Soul and Tarot & Tea. Building owners Land Inc., a nonprofit development group, received funding from Banyan Investments for the renovations.
The combination of commerce and community is a microcosm of the overall emergence of the city, but what makes West Village special is the individual commitment to bettering the neighborhood.
This strong sense of community holds the neighborhood together. “We have people living here for four decades, and people like myself that been here 2-3 years,” says Vas Jacobs, president of the West Village Association. The organization aims to keep neighbors connected, even as new residents flood in. “I don’t want it to be a spot where people aren’t talking to each other,” Jacobs says.
The association has made significant strides in improving the district, including community cleanup events and organizing a volunteer crime committee. Aaron Wagner, a previous WVA president, also took part in launching Tashmoo, a pop-up biergarten.
While West Village has always had a strong residential community, Jacobs says one of the biggest changes he’s seen is the number of businesses in the area. “There was kind of a lull,” in previous years, he says.
But it’s not just new kids on the block. Kimbrough Cleaners, a dry cleaners owned by Chris Chae since the early 1980s, is a neighborhood staple. His son, Chris Chae Jr., 29, has worked there since he was a kid, and considers some customers second moms or dads. Chae Jr. says the end of the recession and reinvestment in Detroit has improved business and the neighborhood as a whole.
The Chaes have branched out beyond the cleaners. Chae’s nephew, Andy Chae, is founder of Fisheye Farms, an organic, urban farm that broke ground in April. The goal is to create a community space and raise awareness of urban farming and the vitality of locally grown, whole foods.
Heavyweight Cuts, owned and operated by Dave Hardin Jr., located on Kercheval near Van Dyke, opened in 2001, before the neighborhood’s revitalization. The influx of new residents has added new regulars, and has increased the diversity seen in the shop. “It makes me more well-rounded and established,” he says. His shop reflects the family-friendly nature of the neighborhood: Large signs saying “No profanity” line the walls. Long-term plans include youth outreach programs.
During the past few years, West Village has seen several new businesses that have brought a lot of attention to the neighborhood. Sister Pie, the 2014 winners of the Hatch Detroit Contest, used the $50,000 prize to fund the location on the corner of Kercheval and Parker, which opened in April.
Owner Lisa Ludwinski moved to West Village in January. “I think there’s a very strong sense of community here,” she says, “Everyone knows each other and there’s a very strong sense of ownership of the neighborhood. People really want to see this neighborhood be awesome and for that connection to exist.”
Avenue of Fashion/Uptown
When folks wax poetic about the glory days of shopping, talk usually turns to Hudson’s, Kerns, and the like. But another stretch was extremely popular in its heyday: The Avenue of Fashion.
Patrons walked the Livernois strip, shopped at places like B. Siegel Company, Woolworths, and Grinnell, and ate and partied at venues like Baker’s Keyboard Lounge.
But from the ’70s on, things were in decline.
Getting the most buzz lately is Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles, headed up by ex-St. Louis Rams/Detroit Lions cornerback Ron Bartell.
Bartell grew up nearby and has strong family ties to the area — including two entrepreneurial uncles.
Algernon Bartell opened Times Square Men’s Clothing in 2010. His brother Rufus Bartell owns Simply Casual and Shoehouse Boulevard.
“I just felt like it was a strong area,” Ron Bartell says. “Everything is going on downtown and Midtown and even Corktown. But the heart of the city, the pulse of Detroit, are the neighborhoods.”
Bartell went to Howard University in Washington, D.C., and “saw gentrification firsthand,” he says. “That’s why things [like Kuzzo’s] are important … being able to employ other African-Americans in a black-owned business in a predominantly black neighborhood.
“People are clamoring to support black-owned businesses,” Bartell adds. “But [we] have to give them something that’s worth support. I take it to heart to make sure we do it right.”
They must be. Kuzzo’s has “kind of outgrown the space already,” Bartell says. “That’s a good problem to have.”
Kuzzo’s isn’t the only dining option. Bakeries, pizzarias, Chinese food, and carry-out joints have been around for years. For finer dining, 1917 American Bistro has held down the fort for more than five years. More recently Jo’s Gallery Café entered the scene.
Dianetta Dye was doing pop-up dinners with several fellow caterers. When they did one on Livernois, “the business owners said, ‘You need to
be here,’ ” she says.
They eventually landed in a storefront owned by Jo’s Gallery, an Avenue stalwart that’s offered fine African-American art for nearly 30 years.
Another restaurant space — and more — may be in the works. Chad Dickinson owns a company that specializes in sustainable products and spaces. Dickinson By Design has set up shop in the former Hunter’s Supper Club.
“The building was neglected for 30 years,” Dickinson says. “We’re just about done opening the can of worms. It still needs a lot of work.”
Dickinson grew up in the area, and returned after five years designing and building recording studios in Nashville. “We went all over Detroit and started walking up and down Livernois [and] fell in love,” he says. “It’s super pedestrian friendly [and] set up to be a great walkable community.”
Dickinson bought a home in Green Acres and got working on the Hunter’s space — and trying to engage with the surrounding neighborhoods.
He’s enthused about Detroit’s comeback. “It’s a real momentum, not contrived,” he says, adding that some fellow business owners are thinking “a few steps deeper” than normal. “The focus is on lifting people up … everything else (profits, etc.) comes from that.”
That sense of community is shared by local groups such as University Commons, or programs like Revolve Detroit, an offshoot of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation that helped develop area businesses such as Detroit Fiber Works, Love. Travels. Imports., and Good Cakes and Bakes.
The area always had relatively affluent neighborhoods — Palmer Woods and Palmer Park, the University District, Sherwood Forest, and Green Acres. It’s also home to the lesser-known Bagley Community of around 5,000 homes on its west side.
“Can the energy of downtown and Midtown get into our strip?” wonders Alicia Biggers-Gaddies, Bagley Community Council president.
The Florida native has been here since 1998, and loves that she knows “every neighbor on the block.” By day, she works on Ford Motor’s global strategy. She’s also heavily involved in Bagley’s future.
“I tell everyone, shopping local matters … local politics matter,” she says. “We got hit hard by the recession and mortgage crisis,” she says.
“I’m hoping we’ve reached rock bottom,” she says. “Neighborhoods are turning around [but] it will never be what it was. … What does ‘version 2.0’ look like? We’re at cusp of where Midtown was a few years ago. We may not be as polished yet, but if you don’t stabilize Bagley, those other areas won’t work.”
— Steve Wilke
Pretty much any Saturday, Eastern Market is a feast for all senses. Throngs of shoppers descend upon the six-block market to fill their produce, meat, and flower needs. Vendors beckon to the crowds, shouting out their specials. There are performers at nearly every turn: a young girl playing an electric blue violin, a youth flash mob dancing in one of the sheds, and a mime dressed in a colorful striped jacket. The sounds of karaoke waft along with the smells of barbecue from Bert’s Marketplace.
But the largest historic public market district in the U.S is more than just food — although there’s plenty of that. For more than 150 years, metro Detroiters have come here to shop, play, and live.
Roughly bounded by Gratiot Avenue, Riopelle Street, Rivard Street, and Division Street, the market was moved to its current location from Cadillac Square in 1891.
Eastern Market is just one piece of the success “breaking out all over town,” Eastern Market Corporation President Dan Carmody said at Shed 5’s rededication in May. Its $8.5 million face-lift added a community kitchen for food entrepreneurs and an outdoor plaza, something that was missing.
The market has always been popular, “but during the ’60s and ’70s with the loss of so much population in the city and businesses it wasn’t frequented as much,” says Linda Yellin, who founded Feet on the Street tours in 2007; her Eastern Market “Come Hungry, Leave Happy, Learn Healthier” tasting tour is one of her most popular offerings.
With the passage of the cottage food industry law, small batch food entrepreneurs have popped up around the market, bringing more local, fresh, and diverse foods.
Food has always been at the core of the market, which is owned by Detroit. But the area is more than the public market and sheds; generations of families have run businesses and shops that have endured over the years.
There’s Roma Café, the city’s oldest Italian restaurant that sits on the original 1890 location, which was opened by the Marazza family, who offered a boarding house for farmers. A popular hangout for locals, Vivio’s opened in 1967 in the historical Meyfarth’s Hall building.
Newer businesses such as restaurant Antietam and coffee shop/cultural space Trinosophes have infused more energy into the already vibrant district. One popular destination is Supino Pizzeria, where a Saturday may mean long lines as they sell 350 large pizzas and 120 small those days, says owner Dave Mancini. He’s planning another restaurant, La Rondinella, next door to Supino.
But the artistic side of the area has grown, too.
The Red Bull House of Art, the only Red Bull gallery in North America, is located in the E & B Brewery Lofts, where Megan O’Connell and Leon Johnson used to live. O’Connell is the proprietor of the letterpress and bookbinding shop Salt & Cedar on Riopelle Street, one of the area’s more unique businesses. A teaching and chair position for Johnson and O’Connell’s role in developing Signal-Return, another letterpress shop in Eastern Market, brought them to Detroit from Maine in 2010.
Salt & Cedar also hosts concerts and poetry readings and publishes books. One of the more interesting events they host is Book and Bread, where Johnson prepares a three-course meal with cocktail pairings by his son Marlowe, who is a bartender next door at Detroit City Distillery. After dinner, Johnson leads a bookbinding workshop.
“The market is a crucible for building a life,” says Johnson, a Kresge Arts Fellow in 2014. “It offered us a set of relationships that we found exciting … our primary partners and collaborators were cheese merchants and wine merchants and butchers.”
O’Connell and Johnson aren’t the only creative types who were drawn to Eastern Market.
Erin Wetzel and her partner JT McCluskey moved from Jackson to a loft at Orleans and Winder a few years ago; in December, they opened a fashion showroom. Orleans + Winder features curated collections through collaboration with artists around the world and also serves as a space for events.
“It’s become the kind of concept store that we wanted, to create a space that is not only a platform for independent high design but also events and artistic happenings,” Wetzel says.
As if the food, arts, and loft spaces aren’t enough, the opening of the Dequindre Cut Greenway adds even more appeal, with access to the action on the RiverWalk and downtown.
— Dorothy Hernandez
1 Program to Boost Property Values
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan wanted to “kick-start things and rebuild property values in Detroit.” In April, he announced a program that may just do that by removing significant barriers to homeownership.
The “Detroit Neighborhood Initiative” is a cooperative effort of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, Bank of America, and the Opportunity Resource Fund.
This one-of-a-kind program is offering home mortgages with no down payment, no closing costs or fees, and below-market fixed-interest rates.
There’s more good news: Credit scores aren’t considered in the process, and renovation funding can be included in the mortgage.
That means homeowners can take out loans worth more than the home’s assessed value — up to 110 percent of its loan-to-value ratio (and up to 150 percent for homes purchased through the Detroit Land Bank).
Here’s an example: Buy a Detroit Land Bank home for $5,000 and wrap in $55,000 worth of rehab costs. The entire monthly payment on a 30-year mortgage of $60,000 plus taxes and insurance: around $400. The bottom line is: that could be an incentive for someone paying $700 or more in rent! Info at naca.com or call 425-602-6222.
3 Potential Up and Coming City Areas
You can spy it from atop the “golden tower of the Fisher Building.” It’s east of Grand Boulevard, north of Woodward Avenue, and stretches north to Hamtramck, then south to almost touch the cultural district. According to Bridge magazine’s Bill McGraw, the industrial zone where Henry Ford began experimenting with the Model T is gaining attention — from condo and loft developers to the Bucharest Grill (More shawarma? Yes, please.). One of our favorites? The gritty Tangent Gallery/Hastings Street Ballroom, available to rent for art exhibitions, musical performances, and more. Sitting at the bar sculpted from recycled steel is worth the visit all by itself.
Just a bit west of Corktown and across Clark Park from Mexicantown’s restaurants and shops lies the historic Hubbard Farms neighborhood. The homes — many featuring beautiful woodwork and stained glass — were mostly built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The neighborhood rests on former “ribbon farms” that stretched all the way to the Detroit River. Clark Park stretches the length of the district from Scotten to Clark. In addition to baseball, soccer, and ice skating, the park hosts festivals, concerts, and special events. The community ranges from newcomers to those who have lived there 50-plus years.
How about a room with a view of Belle Isle? The Marina District’s housing options include the gated community of Morgan Waterfront Estates. The developer started a few years before the economy tanked in 2008. Now things are picking up: 35 of the 40-plus sites are filled with homes ranging from 3,500 to 10,000 square feet. Condos are coming, too. There’s affordable riverfront access, Kean’s Marina, and Engle Memorial and Reid Memorial parks. Plus, there are stalwarts nearby like Sindbad’s and the Roostertail; more recently Rose’s Fine Food moved in. It’s south of the Chrysler Jefferson North Assembly Plant. Heading upriver is the legendary Bayview Yacht Club and the Grosse Pointes; downriver is the Harbortown development.
3 Hottest, Fastest-growing Suburbs
Any community that has a thriving downtown district is doing well, according to Jeff Glover, an Hour Detroit Real Estate All-Star. A walkable downtown with restaurants is key, and above all, people want to be less than an hour from Detroit. // Rochester: A vibrant, growing downtown, good schools, and proximity to northern Oakland County makes this city a top choice. // Brighton: The bustling main street and newer construction opportunities are key, not to mention access to numerous golf and water activities. // Plymouth: A lot of younger generations are considering moving here to start a family. The city also has numerous bars and restaurants with proximity to Detroit.
3 Sparsely Occupied Neighborhoods
The Detroit Blight Removal Task Force has developed a fascinating Motor City Mapping project. Here’s just one small slice of the data. // Brightmoor: The area west of Evergreen Road and south of Grand River Avenue is 50 percent vacant lots. // State Fair: The area east of Woodward Avenue from Eight Mile Road south to Seven Mile Road is 67 percent vacant lots. // City Airport: Van Dyke cuts through this area from McNichols Road south to I-94. It is 68 percent vacant lots.
3 Spooky Spots
The Whitney Restaurant, Detroit: David Whitney Jr. was once the wealthiest man in Detroit. You can’t take it with you, right? Maybe he decided to stay. Toast his memory at the Ghost Bar upstairs.
The Masonic Temple, Detroit: George D. Mason’s spirit lives on, probably in one of the Temple’s hidden staircases.
River Raisin National Battlefield Park, Monroe: Hundreds of American soldiers met their maker here during The War of 1812 after the settlement was attacked by British troops and their Native American allies.