Detroit neighborhood improvement plan still intact

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Mayor revisits neighborhoods
As initiative shows progress, Kilpatrick eyes funding for more areas of the city

Not quite 5 months old, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s plan to kick-start neighborhood improvement is about to get its own makeover.

Today, Kilpatrick is expected to unveil a wealth of demographic data that he hopes will help a newly formed group of nonprofits, financial institutions and private corporations create an economic-stimulus plan that ultimately will cover the entire city.

The initial focus remains on jump-starting revitalization in six neighborhoods by beefing up police presence, cleaning streets, razing abandoned homes and bringing in new business and housing.But the larger goal is to create a blueprint for economic and community reinvestment in Detroit, said Anika Goss-Foster, director of philanthropic affairs for the mayor’s office.

While exploring ways to implement Kilpatrick’s Next Detroit Neighborhood Initiative, the mayor and his staff took a wider view, Goss-Foster said.

In May, Kilpatrick pledged $125 million in tax dollars over five years to upgrade services in six neighborhoods. He also said he would seek to raise $100 million from foundations plus additional money from the sale of bonds. But in this economy, with a financially strapped city and state, floating bonds isn’t a viable option, at least for now, Goss-Foster said.

“The mayor is now sitting at the table with 20 private foundations and financial institutions working on an investment model,” Goss-Foster said last week. “We were at this $100-million figure but realized, by really working in partnership, the public/private commitment can be limitless. This is unprecedented.”

Among those involved are the Skillman Foundation of Detroit and the Knight Foundation of Miami.

At a news conference today, Kilpatrick is expected to detail the revamped plan and highlight accomplishments made in each neighborhood since May.

He is expected to tout the coordination of at least some city services, including trimming trees and repairing streetlights and police raiding abandoned houses used for prostitution and drug dealing; and following up with demolition requests to the Building Safety and Engineering Department.

While none of the neighborhoods has had major improvements, residents of some areas said they’ve seen more police on the streets, a drop in crimes such as home break-ins and car thefts and an increase in raids on drug houses.

Kilpatrick has attended numerous community meetings in recent months, some residents said, leaving them with a sense of hope for the future.

“He’s been quite visible over here, which is a positive change,” said Tony Russell, pastor of New Covenant of Peace World Impact Ministries in the Osborn Community on Detroit’s far east side. “For a while I thought he was just a west-side mayor.

“There’s a new sense of hope in the community and an undercurrent of excitement.”

Identifying neighborhood needs

Kilpatrick picked the six neighborhoods, saying they represent a spectrum of needs.

The Osborn and Grand River/Greenfield neighborhoods had decent housing with a mix of homeowners and renters but needed more retail and attention from the city, including code enforcement and police.

The 7 Mile/Livernois area and East English Village were considered stable areas needing reinforcement. They had a high number of homeowners, a lot of property crime and a need for retail development.

Blighted Brightmoor and the North End were in need of a complete overhaul.

The Rev. Jerome Warfield Sr., chairman of the Brightmoor Alliance, said his community has benefited from a drop in crime. According to data from police that he provided, the number of robberies, burglaries, assaults, larcenies and vehicle thefts dropped by 26% in July and August compared with a year earlier.

“That’s one of the things that’s very noticeable to us,” said Warfield, pastor of Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church.

He praised efforts of the Detroit Police Department’s Northwest District to cut prostitution and step up code enforcement by ticketing for abandoned vehicles, debris and other violations.

The city also responded quickly to demolish blighted structures, Warfield said. A few months ago, a theater caught fire and the next day the city bulldozed it, he said.

“They’ve been very responsive and very proactive,” he said. “Overall, I’m happy. We always want more. But we do see progress.”

But Vicky Reyes, a University District resident, part of the 7 Mile/Livernois target area, said she is disappointed with progress so far.

The city was supposed to cut down a large number of dead and dying trees in rights-of-way and begin work to revitalize the business district on Livernois, known as the Avenue of Fashion. But the city cut down trees on only three blocks of a side street, Reyes said. The city’s arborists had to move on to other parts of the city, something Reyes said she understands. Still, she expected more.

Reyes said the city also indicated the glass covers on street lamps would be cleaned to brighten streets at night, but Reyes hasn’t seen any evidence of it.

“It’s a little disappointing to see a lot of promises and minimal follow-through,” she said.

Study results due today

Kilpatrick and his staff are banking on an extensive analysis of the city to help them tweak the neighborhood plan.

Social Compact, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of national business leaders that promotes investment in urban areas, completed a six-month study of Detroit and is expected to present findings today.

The analysis includes demographic data but also statistics on tax assessments, building-permit activity, automobile registrations, credit-bureau information and utility use. The information is designed to highlight the spending power of Detroiters and convince big and small retailers that it makes sense to do business in Detroit.

Social Compact has done similar analyses for Chicago, Cleveland, Houston and Washington, D.C.

“The enormity of this information validates a lot of the positions we’ve taken with the neighborhood initiative, said Matt Allen, Kilpatrick’s spokesman. “It’s great for the city as a whole to have such refined and precise information to move the city forward.”

Contact SUZETTE HACKNEY at 313-222-6614 or shackney@freepress.com.

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~ by kaoblues on October 1, 2007.

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