By David Sands
Detroit’s streetscape program is aimed at reinvigorating commercial corridors across the city, but for business owners like Denise Moore, the construction involved has brought some short-term frustrations.
Moore is the owner of ZAB Cultural Collective, a co-working space and art gallery located on East Warren Avenue on the city’s East Side. Streetscape construction, which kicked off in June, has led to a slowdown in business and even forced her to close down operations for a month and a half.
“They tore up the very front of our building to work on the sidewalks,” Moore said. “We couldn’t even get in the building, so it was kind of bad. There were big stretches of time when there was no one walking down the street at all.”
The $8.2 million dollar streetscape project happening along East Warren Avenue is part of a public-private Strategic Neighborhood Fund plan to improve 10 neighborhood business corridors around the city. The plan aims to create resident-focused streets that assist and attract businesses and encourage community development.
Once completed, the East Warren streetscape, which will stretch between Cadieux Road and Three Mile Drive, will include new sidewalks and road pavement, bike lanes, crosswalks, pedestrian isles, on-street parking, enhanced transit stops and other amenities. It will also feature a new $1.5 million parking plaza on Courville Street. It’s expected to be completed by spring.
While the construction has been difficult for East Warren business owners like Moore, she’s thankful to have an ally in a local nonprofit, the E. Warren Development Corp (EWDC).
“They really have helped a lot of businesses on the corridor to coordinate information, so everyone can know what’s going on. And they have a lot of resources for us also, so that’s sort of it.”
Founded three years ago, the EWDC is dedicated to supporting and enhancing the East Warren commercial corridor between Mack Avenue and Alter Road and the adjacent neighborhoods of Morningside, East English Village and Cornerstone Village. The nonprofit has its sights set on fostering 100 percent business occupancy along the thoroughfare with a diverse mix of establishments serving the local community.
According to Joe Rashid, EWDC’s executive director, the East Warren corridor has been “fairly resilient” during the pandemic, something he attributes to the majority of businesses owning the properties where they are located. He acknowledges, however, that streetscaping has been challenging.
“There’s never going to be a time where construction doesn’t impact business, but we’ve tried to find creative ways to kind of mitigate that and support businesses in different ways,” Rashid said.
In addition to facilitating communication between the city and local business owners about the project, the EWDC has secured about $50,000 for streetscape mitigation funding from Invest Detroit in partnership with the city of Detroit and Blue Cross Blue Shield to help bolster local businesses. Of this $13,000 has been used for direct grants to seven local businesses. They were given a number of different options for how to use the grants, including professional development, events to get people in their doors and lighting and signage improvements.
“To our surprise, all seven of them applied for facade improvements, so I think we’ve created a kind of a micro facade improvement program,” Rashid said.
Beyond these grants, the EWDC has also been profiling local businesses in a series of different videos that are available via the nonprofit’s website and YouTube page. The project evolved out of a relationship between the EWDC, professional photographer Mark Rutherford, Joshua Arntson of Motor City Ground Crew, Andrew Iannacone, librarian at the East Warren Tool Library, and Ulysses Newkirk, a local graphic designer and artist-in-residence at the tool library.
The four men — who are all affiliated with E. Warren Community Studio, a podcast and audio/visual production studio located at the tool library — originally worked together to produce a short video for a local clothing boutique and have produced several more since July.
Holy Moly Donut Shop, a one-stop breakfast and brunch diner at 17101 E Warren Ave., is one of the profiled businesses. But Mario Williams, the restaurant’s owner, said the video hasn’t really helped make up for the losses he’s suffered during the streetscaping, which he says have cost him nearly half his average business.
“I got a lot of shares on it, but, no, the video hasn’t helped people come in really,” Williams said.” It’s just let them know I’m here and we’re open.”
Moore is more gung ho about her promotional video, remarking that it does a great job of communicating what ZAB Cultural Collective is about to those who may be unfamiliar with the concept of a co-working space.
“I love it,” she said. “I’m hoping it will let everyone know that we are still here and to come and venture out. Even though it’s a little challenging to get to the businesses, there is a way.”
In addition to Holy Moly Donut Shop, ZAB Cultural Collective and Tavira and Co, the EWDC has also created promotional videos for Warren Cafe and Be Her Detroit. The nonprofit wants to produce 10 to 15 more videos highlighting businesses along the corridor over the next several months and is looking into getting additional grants for local business owners as well.
“We’re not going to just stop with seven businesses giving a $2,000 grant. We need to be able to help support more businesses along the corridor,” Rashid said. “It’s not just about new businesses coming, but it’s about bolstering existing businesses and making sure that they are getting support as well.”
– Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. This story was originally produced and published by Model D Media and is reprinted in New Michigan Media newspapers through a partnership supported by the Kresge Foundation. This article has been edited for style.
PHOTO CREDIT: NICK HAGEN