Despite the blight that surrounded Pewabic Pottery during the 15 years Terese Ireland-Salisbury was executive director there, visitors to the storied studio and its galleries more than quadrupuled.
Pewabic took some initiative, making itself a destination with an improved façade and landscape, hosting events and providing private security visible in the parking lot. “People will come and people will explore in Detroit,” Ireland-Salisbury says. “I saw it happen.”
Now retired from Pewabic, Ireland-Salisbury is part of a new organization, Jefferson East Inc., a collaboration of existing community development corporations, other nonprofits, neighborhood associations and local businesses. The group is betting, like Pewabic did, that it can attract people to Detroit’s east side and encourage them to live, work, shop and play along the entire East Jefferson Avenue Corridor.
That’s the geographic area that stretches from east of I-375 downtown to the Grosse Pointe Park border about six miles away. It runs inland from the Detroit River to Mack Avenue and includes five neighborhoods, each with its own anchor organization, block clubs and businesses.
Some of those five districts have stable housing with relatively high occupancy rates, as in Lafayette Park, or historic housing as in The Villages. Others have growing commercial districts, like Jefferson-Chalmers and Rivertown. One, the Marina District, barely exists as a “named” neighborhood but has huge potential for recreation, commercial districts and growth.
Together the five areas have a variety of housing prices and styles, plenty of room for small businesses to move in and grow, proximity to downtown and the riverfront and, like much of the city, huge potential. As an umbrella organization, the thinking goes, Jefferson East Inc. will help maximize all of those assets.
“I felt East Jefferson to be an undiscovered jewel,” Ireland-Salisbury says. “But there was no vision for the entire East Jefferson Corridor… Until now.”
Built by bankruptcy
Detroit’s fiscal failings and now its bankruptcy are partially responsible for Jefferson East Inc.’s formation, says its executive director, Josh Elling.
“Historically the city could afford to have a lot of small nonprofits,” he says. “They used to sort of dribble our community development block grant money to small pockets and support small organizations. I think there’s been a trend now toward having fewer organizations but having organizations with more capacity.”
Elling, as the leader of the former Jefferson East Business Association, has worked with four mayoral administrations in the last few years. Such turnover is always a challenge, and as the city has cut services, Elling has watched neighborhood organizations and community development corporations pick up the effort.
In Jefferson East’s districts that effort has included policing efforts through private security and crime data analysis partnerships; economic development; recreation projects like greenways and parks; housing projects and small business support.
But there were varying levels of expertise, ability and financing for such efforts across the east side. With the new group, Elling predicts those efforts will be better shared across the corridor.
“It allows us to think about the entire East Jefferson Corridor as a system of interconnected neighborhoods that have different market conditions,” he says.
But common to all the east side neighborhoods is the riverfront, which Jefferson East leaders agree is an untapped resource in their corridor.
“I think that the evolution of Jefferson East Inc. is indicative of where the city is in its declaration of bankruptcy,” says Brian Hurttienne, executive director of The Villages Inc., the community development group of Indian Village, West Village and four other nearby neighborhoods. “There needs to be an agency or organization involved that takes care of the major assets of the city.”
Among those is the riverfront. Consider Belle Isle, which draws plenty of people eastward from the city’s more dense downtown, southwest and west side neighborhood. Hurttienne and others say, if those visitors ventured off the island park, they would find interesting neighborhoods, other recreation sites, and shopping and dining opportunities.
Jefferson East Inc. is encouraging that with its new “Go East” campaign. Launched last month, the campaign showcases the east side as a whole by featuring businesses, neighborhoods and events.
One of the group’s biggest challenges is that none of the eastside areas are as well known, successful or organized as, say Midtown, downtown, southwest Detroit’s bustling business and tourism areas or the Grandmont-Rosedale neighborhood.
“We want to take from Midtown, what they’ve been doing and keep it flowing out this way,” says Paulette Foster, a nearly 30-year resident of the Jefferson-Chalmers area that borders Grosse Pointe Park and board member with Jefferson East Inc. “The new organization is good because it gives us that seamless transition.”
The “Go East” effort, as well as the new group’s launch, has been supported by numerous foundations and local businesses, including the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
“We have long supported Detroit’s near-east side. In particular, we’ve worked with the neighborhoods to help the broader public to understand the exceptional assets that adjoin the arteries of the riverfront and East Jefferson,” said Mariam C. Noland, Community Foundation president. “The formation of Jefferson East, Inc. and the “Go East” rebranding initiative help position the area to benefit from the coming revitalization of Detroit.”
What Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s forthcoming restructuring plan will look like, which powers the city council will retain or gain, and how Mayor Mike Duggan’s neighborhood department will operate are all outstanding questions that Jefferson East Inc. leaders can’t answer yet.
“I don’t know what the city’s forthcoming new structure is, I’m not sure anyone does,” Hurttienne says.
But whatever Detroit’s future organization is, Hurtienne says the new group will have a stronger voice and visibility that its individual member organizations would alone.
“I see Jefferson East playing a complementary role to where the city government is these days: reinforcing the public safety aspect of the corridor, reinforcing the clean up that they do, trying to do economic development and streetscape improvements, as well as encouraging businesses to move in and doing placemaking,” he says.
-By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda
@WDETSandra and firstname.lastname@example.org