Apr 24, 2023 - News

ARPA funding targeted for Detroit neighborhood corridor growth

East Warren Avenue is a major commercial corridor in one of the areas targeted by the city's Strategic Neighborhood Fund. Photo: Annalise Frank/Axios Detroit

Detroit is fueling a new strategy to support development in neighborhood corridors outside downtown.

Why it matters: Critics say the bulk of tax incentives and development dollars go to downtown at the expense of equitable growth in the city's neighborhoods, driving a "two Detroits" narrative.

  • Mayor Mike Duggan often pushes back on this, pointing to thriving business districts along roads like Livernois.

What's happening: Amanda Elias, the recently-appointed deputy group executive for neighborhood economic development, is now hiring a team of three under Duggan's jobs and economy team to help coordinate commercial district revitalization.

State of play: This new office will build on the city's existing financing machine that targets commercial corridors, the Strategic Neighborhood Fund (SNF).

  • The multistage urban planning process started in 2016 and expanded to 10 target areas in 2018. SNF aims to restore shopping districts, increase walkability, add housing and more.

Between the lines: Elias will act as a go-between in some ways. While an urban planning process may determine a great place for a barber shop or housing, "the planning department's not going to be the one to go and negotiate that deal … that's where my team comes in," Elias tells Axios.

  • Her team could speak with businesses and developers to "bring that deal to life to activate the corridor."

Zoom in: Elias' team's goals for the SNF areas are twofold. They'll help businesses and developers navigate government, "unsticking" them if they're having trouble with city processes like zoning.

  • They'll also use ARPA dollars to make "strategic" interventions to improve vacant sites along these commercial corridors with the goal of attracting more economic growth.
  • That could range from cleaning up facades and stabilizing city-owned buildings for future users to demolishing them to make way for a park, or improving street lighting and the street itself. Or, if derelict properties are privately owned, requesting enforcement action against the owners.

What they're saying: Any new program involving community development should have a substantial engagement and education component and approach development "holistically" to help residents thrive, Ruth Johnson, public policy director for Community Development Advocates of Detroit, tells Axios.

  • Plus, existing nonprofits and other organizations in SNF areas "have lots of experience and may already have plans of how they want to encourage development," she says.
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