Sep 22, 2023 - News

The state of slow development in Jefferson Chalmers

Norma G's

The Norma G's building at 14628 E Jefferson Ave., closed for dine-in but still doing catering. Photos: Annalise Frank/Axios

Jefferson Chalmers hotspot Norma G's shutting its doors represents a wrinkle in the already slow development progress along a major commercial corridor targeted for revitalization.

Why it matters: While the East Jefferson business district near the Grosse Pointe Park border is home to businesses like Yellow Light donuts and Marshall's Bar — and a nearby rec center under construction — many buildings remain empty.

  • When it opened in 2018, Norma G's was heralded by officials who expected more revitalization coming soon. Its loss, at least for now, reflects that the area still has challenges.

The latest: The Caribbean restaurant "suspended" dine-in service Sept. 1 but is still doing catering and events, owner Lester Gouvia tells Axios. He says he isn't done, "just not sure how it's going to evolve … all that's up in the air right now."

  • It doesn't appear likely the vacancy would last too long. But both Gouvia and Joshua Elling, CEO of nonprofit and Norma G's building owner Jefferson East Inc. (JEI), declined to disclose specifics.
  • Gouvia cites several reasons for closing, including growing tired from running the restaurant for five years.
  • He also adds: "I think there has been a stagnancy in the growth here in the neighborhood and it has made me a bit nervous."

The big picture: Jefferson Chalmers was targeted for investment under the Strategic Neighborhood Fund in 2018, as well as business district improvement plans.

  • There has been progress — for example, JEI, a major player in the area which crafted one of those plans, finished renovating two historic apartment buildings this year.
  • Also, Norma G's "proved a full-service restaurant could survive in Jefferson Chalmers even through a global pandemic," says Elling. That led JEI to bring in another restaurant, Detroit Soul, in late 2022.
The vacant former Platt Motor building at 14801 E. Jefferson Ave. in Jefferson Chalmers.

Yes, but: Elling says development is "still challenging" there, "where you have very large buildings with very sizable development gaps" exacerbated by rising construction costs.

  • One JEI project that's been delayed and had a cost increase of $700,000 is a restaurant and three-apartment building at 14522 E. Jefferson.
  • Another complication for some projects is FEMA's floodplain designation, making federal funding for development harder to access.
  • The city is working to assist JEI in getting more projects off the ground and push other private property owners in the area to make progress, says Donald Rencher, Detroit's group executive for housing, planning and development.

Plus, the city also lost out on a federal grant it pursued this year to fund streetscape improvements on East Jefferson, like those that have promoted interest in other corridors.

What's next: JEI's "next big project" is in the idea/pre-development stage — both Elling and Rencher note it'll be a tough one to finance.

  • The Gateway would involve rehabbing the former Platt Motor building at 14801 E. Jefferson, by the border with Grosse Pointe Park, and a ground-up development next to it with a total of up to 50 apartments with a focus on affordable housing, per Elling.

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